Every month, The Book Chewers choose a novel as their Book of the Month. However, in honor of Banned Books Week later in September they have devoted this entire month to all kinds of banned books. I already have a post planned on the subject, but decided to also do this week’s link-up.
“Take a photo of yourself with your favorite banned book, and then write about that book. Talk about the parts of it that are controversial, or explain how you found the book or what it means to you. You can write whatever you want, just tell us something interesting about it!”
Now before we get to the part where I show you Facebook (my face and a book, get it, get it?), I should warn you. I wasn’t having a bad hair day so much as I was having a bad face day. My forehead was like, “Let’s be huge!”, my smile wanted to be awkward, and my eyebrows were off in a world of their own. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating – I look terrible in photos, and even worse in selfies.
My favorite banned book is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forney. Although it was published only six years ago, it has already caused much controversy for including the following: alcohol, poverty, bullying, sexual references, profanity, racism, the deaths of multiple characters, and its religious viewpoint. The official blurb reads,
“Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend. Determined to receive a good education, Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only Indian is the school mascot. Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed.
Inspired by his own experiences growing up, award-winning author Sherman Alexie chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one unlucky boy trying to rise above the life everyone expects him to live.”
Book banning is a weird thing. On one hand, it’s very serious because a few people try to restrict what all can read. I mean, what’s up with that? How do they not understand the concept of freedom? Of course they don’t have to like everything but they shouldn’t be putting stuff off-limits, because not everyone shares their beliefs.
On the other hand, sometimes book banning cracks me up. Often I’ve read the reason(s) a particular novel was banned and it makes me wonder whether those who had it banned had even read the book, or merely heard about it. Yes, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian deals with many tough subjects. It does not glorify them, though. Consider the following passage – my favorite, because it made me think – found near the end of the book.
“I cried because so many of my fellow tribal members were slowly killing themselves and I wanted them to live. I wanted them to get strong and get sober and get the hell off the rez.
It’s a weird thing.
Reservations were meant to be prisons, you know? Indians were supposed to move onto reservations and die. We were supposed to disappear.
But somehow or another, Indians have forgotten that reservations were meant to be death camps.
I wept because I was the only one who was brave and crazy enough to leave the rez. I was the only one with enough arrogance.”
Book banners seemingly think that reading about drunks makes one want to try alcohol, that reading about how racism hurts people will turn one into a racist, that reading about kids who don’t know when their next meal will be makes one think, “Ooh, I’d like to try out poverty for a day!” Junior’s opinions of these things seem pretty clear though, right? He’s saying LOOK KIDS, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME. Book banners too often completely miss the point. Actually, scratch that – has any book banner ever understood the reason for including difficult or controversial subjects in books?
Books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian open our eyes to things we didn’t know existed, or were able to ignore before we read about them. My favorite banned book is not easy to read. Sometimes its gallows humor made me laugh until I cried. Other times, I just cried. I didn’t want to believe that this could happen to Junior, one terrible thing after another. Sometimes, I didn’t want to read even one more page because I didn’t want to know any more.
But that’s precisely the point. Books should make us think and Books With Issues do this the best. I don’t like much realistic fiction but The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is part of that genre and I love it. You see, I find most realistic fiction boring because it’s not fantastical or suspenseful or whatever – it’s about ordinary life. Why would I want to read about things that I do every day?
However, I love The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian because although it is realistic, it is not my reality. My life has almost nothing in common with Junior’s; for that I am grateful. But I wouldn’t even know or be grateful for that if I hadn’t been able to read the book in the first place. Short of actually dealing with tough subjects in your own life, reading a book that makes you think is fantastic. Book banners don’t want us to question things, but go ahead and ignore them. Read a banned book this month, or next month, or whenever you feel like it. Learn something new. Think for yourself.