Spotlight on Censorship – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Banned Books Week, Censorship, Office for Intellectual Freedom


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” — attributed to Mark Twain

Today’s Spotlight on Censorship profiles National Book Award winner and New York Times bestseller The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, which has caused quite a stir this year in Stockton, Missouri.  Back in April, it was removed from the school curriculum when one elementary school parent complained about the book’s content.  The Stockton School District Board then held an open forum for concerned local parents and citizens to discuss whether the book should be returned, with restrictions, to the high school library.

The board’s April decision inspired local protests against the ban and captured the attention of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free ExpressionNational Council of Teachers of English, and National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC).  NCAC and OIF united with allied groups and sent two letters to the board, arguing that “[n]o educational rationale has been advanced for removing the book, nor could one be plausibly made,” to no avail.  In a disappointing outcome on September 8, the school district board voted 7-0 to uphold the ban of the book from school classrooms and 7-2 to keep the book out of the high school library, despite the urging of many educators to keep it.

Alexie’s novel about a teenage boy growing up on an Indian reservation who decides to attend an all-white high school was already banned from a Crook County High School classroom in Prineville, Ore., in 2008 after one parent complained that the protagonist’s discussion of masturbation was “offensive.”  The book was challenged again in Illinois in 2009 by a group of Antioch High School parents who objected to its vulgar and racist language, but was ultimately retained on the school’s summer reading list.

While The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was thankfully returned to the Antioch High School summer reading list, the school district did create a new committee — including parents — to review summer reading assignments and decide if parents should be notified if a selection contains possibly objectionable material.

On the topic of censorship of Part-Time Indian, Alexie said:

The opposite of this is censorship, which arises out of not taking kids seriously, which I hate. Chris Crutcher gave a great talk about censorship [for the ALAN Workshop], and I believe censorship is really about condescension. It’s the notion that kids don’t have complicated emotional lives, don’t have complicated responses to a complicated life. Censorship is an attempt to make kids and their lives simple. Being accustomed to that sort of treatment, kids just respond well to anything that takes them seriously.


  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an amazing novel. It should not be censored or banned. A lot of people struggle reading this book and find it quite offending because of the usual books that sugar coat everything. Sherman Alexie does not sugar coat anything in the book and that is what people fear: the truth. The reality of many teenagers coming from different backgrounds is often ignored. Teenagers are never taken seriously. This book is written from the narrative of a 14 year old boy who struggles through devastating issues involving racism, poverty and alcoholism. A lot of people tend to focus on the little concerns in the book like sexual references and inappropriate language. A teenager should be old enough know right from wrong. At the age of 14 year old, a boy is going through puberty and tends to think about things like masturbation. It’s normal.

  • I agree with Bigga in the sense that people fear the truth. I believe that other books try to be politically correct and offend as few people as possible while Alexie stayed true to his story, no matter how offensive it may be to some people. Yes, he talks about masturbation and seeing Penelope’s white bra through her tight, white shirt, but he’s a 14 year old boy – what do you expect? His hormones are raging, it’s not unusual for him to have those thoughts. As for the alcoholism and the racism that Alexie had to deal with, he was far from sugarcoating. He was blunt and harsh about those topics, but he needed to be. Sheltering students won’t keep them safe. It will just hurt them in the long-run.

  • I also agree because im a tenth grader at adrian high school. As a class we read the book and teens are so immature but its something every kid goes through.. and ML96 i so agree with you because parents or most of them at least dont realize sheltering your kids make them want to rebel.

  • I love this book! It is hilarious! Yes it does talk about some racy topics but it is something all kids go through. And I agree sheltering your kids is not worth it because they probably already know about sex, racism, bulimia, and alcohol. And if they don’t know about it they can just go on the internet and figure it out in like half a second. Not only is it important to realize that kids probably already know about everything or most of the things talked about in this book, it is important to realize that there are also some good lesson to learn. Junior has some pretty courageous acts in this book that everyone can learn from. I mean his switches schools where he knows he will be made fun of and he knows he will be hated by his tribe. This book is filled with examples like that, which teach kids things that they can only learn by hearing the bad stuff first.

  • Sherman Alexie’s work definitely makes The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian one of my favorite books! Personally, I don’t feel as though the book needs to be banned from young adult readers. The first time I read the book was in 8th Grade and as I read through the parts of masturbation, I simply noted to my self, “Oh, that’s awkward…”, and then moved past it, more intrigued by the drawings and humor within the book. I believe that if parents are concerned with their child reading this book, they need to have a personal discussion with them. But even so, parents need to realize that their child is growing up and they can’t shield them from mature issues. As I mentioned to many others, the book provides wonderful life lessons that I believe are beneficial for students. Alexie creates a beautiful dynamic between poverty, alcohol, humor, and hope that makes the book a terrific read.

  • Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian should never had been banned from any schools. Although it does use some inappropriate language and has some sexual scenes , all high school students have heard of these things before. Highschool students should be exposed to these things before they go out into the world anyway so banning a book on these claims are unreasonable. Sherman Alexie writes many, many important things that need to be shown about the native american people and life in general and taking that away from students because of some swear words that they already know is unfair to them. Alexie writes the plan truth with no way of trying to make the cold hard truth sound any better, which in present day is very hard to find. Students need to be exposed to this type of writing to better there education. No one should be able to ban this great literary work.

  • The ban on The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is ludicrous. Sherman Alexie conveys key messages throughout the entire novel. This novel about a teenage boy’s life born into much adversity on a Spokane Indian reservation teaches us about many important life lessons such as hope, preserving, and determination. These lessons have always been valued and taught and are now being censored due to crude language sometimes used by Alexie which helps to further instill these lessons into the readers mind. It is often seen as taboo in our current society to say things the way that they are, and that is exactly what Sherman Alexie does. Due to the unfiltered voice this novel has been banned and has been labeled inappropriate. This novel should commended for its honesty, it is because of its unfiltered voice that this book is able to get important lessons across such as hope, perseverance, and pain especially to a teenage reader.

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