Alexandra Duncan

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism.


Welcome to day 1 of my Banned Books Week Giveaway! For more information about how this giveaway works and why I'm doing it, read this introductory post

Let's start out Banned Books Week by talking about a book that exemplifies many of the characteristics of a banned book, The Absolutely True Diary of a True Indian, by Sherman Alexie. The YA novel is a 2007 National Book Award Winner and frequently shows up on the ALA's yearly report on banned or challenged books. The fact that it depicts masturbation seems to be a common complaint among those who challenge the book. (Shocking! In a book about a teenage boy?!?) If you look at the ALA infographic below, you'll see that depictions of sexuality in YA books are a frequent flashpoint.

However, in 2015, a grandmother in North Carolina came up with a bizarre complaint I've never seen leveled at Alexie's book before. Robert P. Doyle writes in 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, that the book was "challenged, but retained in the Brunswick County, N.C. schools (2015)" when "a grandmother complained that the book 'portrays bestiality and is pornographic.'"

I read this aloud to my husband, who is also a fan of the book, and we both scratched our heads. Bestiality? I mean, the book definitely portrays masturbation, so if you object to a realistic portrayal of a teenage boy's life, that's at least something that's really on the page. But neither of us could figure out what part of True Diary anyone could misinterpret as bestiality.

What I find frustrating about so many challenges to books is that the challengers seem fixated on picking out only pieces of the books and not looking at them as a whole, or in context. Obsessing about the mention of sexuality or teens using profanity (another common complaint) means missing the beauty of Alexie's language, the heartbreaking reality of life portrayed in its pages, or the skillful way Alexie shows his narrator, Junior, maturing as both an artist and a human being. The diary entries in Alexie's book are interspersed with Junior's drawings (done by Ellen Forney), and careful observers will notice Junior's artistic skill developing as he ages and varying in style based on his feelings about a subject.

Compare Junior's style when he's making fun of one of his teachers:

To him trying to capture his friends and family. . .

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a smart book, a moving book, a book that can help people of all ages (not just teens!) see themselves and understand themselves better.

If you'd like to enter the giveaway for this book, you have until 11:59 p.m. today, Sunday, Sept. 25th. You will get 1) a paperback copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, 2) a copy of Robert P. Doyle's 2015-2016 Books Challenged or Banned, and 3) a paperback copy of my book, Sound, which is coming out this week. Enter below!

Check back tomorrow for another giveaway!

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