Ages fourteen to eighteen are the years of uncertainty, vulnerability, and attempts at conformity. During these years, it is substantial that teens have an outlet, be it books or school presentations, in which they can find unity in their adolescence. In 2007, award-winning author, Sherman Alexie published a novel titled, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, where he tells a story of a fourteen-year old freshman boy who boldly decides to leave his high school on the reservation, Wellpinit, for better opportunity at Rearden High twenty-two miles from the reservation. Though this book has won a national book award, it has been banned from the high school required reading list in Idaho. Alison Flood, a columnist for The Guardian, informs readers in 2014 in article, “Sherman Alexie Young-Adult Book Banned in Idaho Schools”, about the controversy revolving around Alexie’s novel. Though the book includes content that is unsettling to the board of education; however, I believe it includes important topics that young people can relate to and even benefit from.
One of the main reasons, in which I disagree with, the novel is banned from schools is because of the explicit scenes. Junior is a fourteen-year old boy and attending geometry class on his first day of high school at Wellpinit. Geometry’s involvement with curves sparks interest and excitement with Junior. With that being said, Junior expresses his view on masturbation, “Yep, I have to admit that isosceles triangles make me feel hormonal…I spend hours in the bathroom with a magazine that has one thousand pictures of naked movie stars…I’m going to talk about it because EVERYBODY does it. And EVERYBODY likes it” (Alexie 25-26). He believes that to masturbate is to be normal and if you like it, then that’s normal too. The book banners believe this type of content encourages sexual behavior onto young people. In 2014 article, “Sherman Alexie young adult book banned in Idaho schools”, Flood includes insight from local parent in the Idaho Statesman newspaper. The local expresses, “It subjects children to filthy words we do not speak in our home…and has been viewed by many as anti-Christian” (qtd. in Flood). If this opinion is taken without looking at the full picture, then it is nothing less of a closed minded approach. Anatomically speaking, teens in high school are going through their puberty stage, and their hormones are raging out of control! At this age, they are more than likely already “exploring their bodies” without the book having any influence of doing so. Teens may read the book, relate, and find humor in the fact that Junior actually admits to such a private yet normal act. Yes, this novel includes light, sexual content, but there are many other ways for children to be exposed to sexual content that are much more graphic. A few ways they may be exposed to sexual content, outside of this book, are through movies, music, websites, and quite frankly, in the halls of the schools.
Though masturbation is something that is a familiar activity within teens, alcohol abuse may not be what every teen is used to. Book banners may believe alcohol abuse is taken lightly and should not be freely discussed to teens in their adolescent years as it may encourage them to indulge in that lifestyle. At this time in the book, Junior is considering leaving the reservation, yet he feels reluctant to leave Rowdy alone during “one of the worst summers of his life”(Alexie 16). For example, Junior is descriptive and reflects, his best friend from the reservation, Rowdy’s summer, “His father is drinking hard and throwing punches, so Rowdy and his mother are always walking around with bruised and bloody faces… ‘Its war paint’ Rowdy says, ‘It just makes me look tougher’” (Alexie 16). It seems as though Rowdy has accepted the behavior of his father as normal. Rowdy may even mask his hurt with the blood his father caused. Those in favor of banning the book believe that because of how nonchalantly this topic may have come across as, people may overlook the message this actually sends to everyone. Essentially, the exposure of alcohol in this book brings attention to the realities of poverty on any reservation in the United States. Rowdy and Junior are children of an alcoholic community and definitely reap what their parents have sewn. Rowdy and his mother are being abused by his alcoholic father, while Junior’s family is drowning in finances because of how much money his father puts towards his drinking. I know that in my family, we have had to see face to face the consequences drugs and alcohol have, and it has been an example of the road we should not take. In high school, there are many parties that teens attend and are faced with the decision of having a drink or not. Oftentimes these high school students end up drinking alcohol in hopes of looking cool or being accepted. This semi-autobiographical novel portrays an important message to teens that alcohol has a tremendous effect on individuals and families world-wide. It is important to educate teens about such an epidemic that they do not need to conform to.
Aside from the conflicts revolving around sexual content and alcohol abuse, Junior shares his medical condition that has affected his overall health, yet his hopeful mindset allowed him not to let it stop him from achieving his desires. Throughout the chapter he describes how intense his brain damage is and how it led to deformities such as extra teeth, enlarged skull, seizure susceptibility, and speech impediments. In the first chapter titled “The Black Eye of the Month Club”, we learn about Juniors cerebral condition. Junior informs, “I was born with water on the brain. Okay, so that’s not exactly true. I was born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside my skull. But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors fancy way of saying brain grease” (Alexie 1). Junior has a way of adding a comical touch in his words all while describing the trauma he has had to go through involving his brain damage. Despite Juniors physical conditions, he remains ambitious, hopeful, and humorous. Junior is confident in his creativity and creates beautiful art that stem from his heart. Junior explains the significance of his drawings, “I draw because I want to talk to the world…I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist” (Alexie 6). Junior shares his love for drawing, and he believes that one day his art will give him fame or success. I have seen first-hand the damages cerebral problems can have on ones’ body and appearance. There’s a woman, thirty-one years old, named Victoria. Victoria was born with cerebral palsy, which meant she lacked oxygen to the area of her brain that sends signals to her limbs to function properly. One thing that is admirable about her, is that she does not allow her disability to stop her from living her life to its fullest potential. She found love, and fearfully left home at the age of twenty into the real world without the help and care of her parents. I am fortunate to say that this woman is my sister. My sister is funny, hopeful, and ambitious just like Junior. Teens may read this novel and receive a message that no matter what problems, physical, financial, emotional, you have that you can achieve greatness as long as you remain positive and hopeful.
Along with having a positive perspective, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian teaches the value of relationships. Rowdy and Junior are best friends and have been for a long time. We learn in the book that Rowdy is overly aggressive and somewhat emotionally unavailable, but Junior is the complete opposite. It is an interesting to see such different personalities link up and in a beautiful way; their relationship just works. When Junior needs Rowdy’s fists of protection, he is there. When Rowdy needs someone to climb pine trees and admire the nature that surrounds them, Junior is undoubtedly there. Rowdy and Junior went to a powwow together one night. At one point, Junior left Rowdy and ended up in a camp of three men. The three men were quick to taunt Junior and started calling him cruel names relating to his brain disorder. They proceeded to push, shove, and kick him until he fell to the ground. As they were finished beating up Junior, they left. Rowdy then finds Junior and angrily says, “I’m going to kill those bastards” (Alexie 22). Rowdy becomes concerned and upset to find him on the ground in pain and is determined to pay those “men” back. I believe that Rowdy shows his love for Junior by always defending him in times Junior cannot physically put up a fight. Junior shows Rowdy some brotherly love by drawing cartoons for him. Junior describes how he likes making Rowdy happy, “I like to make him laugh. He loves my cartoons…So I draw cartoons to make him happy, to give him other worlds to live inside (Alexie 23).” Junior feels that he can help Rowdy escape the harsh world he lives in through his cartoon art. Even though they have their own way of expression, you can sense that they do love each other and definitely value their friendship.
It is nice to see how close Rowdy and Junior are; however not all male friendship stay this way. In 2011 Jan Hoffman, columnist of the New York Times, composed an article, “Allowing Teenage Boys to Love Their Friends.” The article discusses how there is a common and sad event that takes place for teenage boys where, eventually, the love for their male friends will fade. Hoffman introduces the readers to Dr. Way, a professor at New York University, where she applies research on male friendships. Dr. Way believes, “Boys valued their male friendships greatly and saw them as essential components to their health, not because their friends were worthy opponents in the competition of manhood, but because they were able to share their thoughts and feelings-their deepest secrets-with these friends” (qtd. in Hoffman). Despite the un-denying desire to achieve ultimate masculinity, young boys depend on their friendships to be vulnerable and embrace each other. Teenage boys are not so different from girls in the fact that they both are going through similar awkward stages. A shocking statistic that Hoffman includes in her article was that, “Around ages 15 and 16, the suicide rate for American boys becomes about four times that of girls (Hoffman). It is important for teens to open up to each other and allow emotional connections to form. After all, it is healthy to do so. High schoolers will learn from the book to reflect and embrace the friendships they have.
Yes, there are shock factors and harsh realities are that in the novel, but that is what makes this book real and thought provoking in a positive manner. The novel portrays an exclusive look inside the life of a teenage Indian boy living in poverty filled with many other struggles on top of that. Sadly, there are too many young people who are stuck in one mindset, a fixed mindset, in which they believe there is no hope for them to get ahead in life. However, when reading this semi-autobiographical novel, it is a sigh of relief for teens knowing that there are many other people from different walks of life who struggle in one way or any other and can still come out on top. In the struggle there is hope for a better day, and Junior demonstrates this. Implementing such a uplifting story in high schools will set an example as to what is normal, what is possible, and what loving one another means.
Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
New York, Little, Brown, 2007.
Flood, Alison. “Sherman Alexie Young-Adult Book Banned in Idaho Schools.” The Guardian,
Guardian News and Media, 8 Apr. 2014,
part-time-indian-anti-christian. Accessed 3 Nov. 2016.
Hoffman, Jan. “Allowing Teenage Boys to Love Their Friends.” New York Times, The New
York Times Company, 21 Sept. 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/09/22/fashion/seeking-
to-help-boys-keep-their-friends.html. Accessed 3 Nov. 2016.