Top Ten Banned Book: Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

ALA Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books, Banned and Challenged Books

I suddenly understood that if every moment of a book should be taken seriously, then every moment of a life should be taken seriously as well.”

Junior, Chapter 11 
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

If number of challenges are a marker of the serious themes of a book, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is worthy of close attention as one of the top ten most challenged books of all time. The novel features a teenager born with disabilities including encephalitis, who has grown up on a reservation in Spokane, Washington. Fourteen-year-old Arnold, or “Junior” is a cartoonist and book worm with a fiercely protective best friend, Rowdy. Soon after they start freshman year, Junior transfers from a school on the “rez” to one in a small white town, 22 miles away. Although his parents support his decision, everyone else on the rez sees him as a traitor. Throughout the book, Junior struggles with questions about community and identity. He is determined to improve himself and overcome poverty despite the handicaps of birth and race. Cartoons, font changes and dark humor illuminate the serious themes of the book in a way that even the most reluctant readers can connect with and enjoy.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was the most-challenged book in the United States from 2010 to 2019 and was named one of the top ten most challenged books in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2020. This book was banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author. One of the more recent challenges took place in Wichita, Kansas, this past year. The book was challenged by the grandparent of a ninth-grade student. A 12-member committee reviewed the challenge and decided as of March 2022 to no longer allow teachers to use a set of the novels approved for classrooms. The district also removed the novel from the library at Derby North Middle School. The committee recommended adding a “mature” label to copies at the high school library.

Publishers Weekly described the YA novel as the “Native American equivalent of Angela’s Ashes, a coming-of-age story so well observed that its very rootedness in one specific culture is also what lends it universality, and so emotionally honest that the humor almost always proves painful.” Other review sources were equally complimentary.

“Alexie’s humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn’t pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt.  A few of the plotlines fade to gray by the end, but this ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure. Younger teens looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here.”


Horn Book Magazine, NPR and School Library Journal also offered favorable reviews. A Kirkus starred review, offered the following, “Alexie nimbly blends sharp wit with unapologetic emotion in his first foray into young-adult literature… The reservation’s poverty and desolate alcoholism offer early mortality and broken dreams, but Junior’s knowledge that he must leave is rooted in love and respect for his family and the Spokane tribe. He also realizes how many other tribes he has, from ‘the tribe of boys who really miss … their best friends’ to ‘the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers.’ Junior’s keen cartoons sprinkle the pages as his fluid narration deftly mingles raw feeling with funny, sardonic insight.”

In spite of having received numerous awards and recognition, including the following:

  • A Junior Library Guild selection;
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 2008;
  • National Book Award, Young People’s Literature, 2007;
  • Odyssey Award, 2009;
  • Notable Book for a Global Society, 2008;
  • American Indian Youth Literature Award winner, 2008;
  • “Best Books of 2007”, School Library Journal
  • YALSA 2008 “Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults,”  

… the book remains one of the top ten most challenged books across the country.

Librarians and teachers looking to further expand their Native Voices collection might also want to explore Cynthia Letich’s website and the Heartdrum imprint for recommendations and an educator’s guide. The imprint “evokes the heartbeat of the Native community” by publishing books representing today’s 600+ tribal Nations located within the borders of the United States and Canada. Heartdrum is “dedicated to shining a spotlight on Native and First Nations characters, topics, and points of view while raising up Indigenous creatives as well as their literary and visual art.” Cynthia Leitich Smith is the author of Sisters of the Neversea, Rain Is Not My Indian Name, Indian Shoes, Jingle Dancer, and Hearts Unbroken, which won the American Indian Library Association’s Youth Literature Award. Most recently, she was named the 2021 NSK Neustadt Laureate. Cynthia is the author-curator of Heartdrum, and a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. 

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