Is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Too Hot For Middle Schoolers?
Here at SparkLife headquarters, there are just two things that make us weep with frustration: not being able to get the cap off our Vitamin Water, and haters who want to ban amazing books they haven't even read. So it's a good thing that we already managed to unscrew the top from our acai-flavored superjuice, because now we can drink it while we cry over the news that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian just got bumped off the summer reading list for a middle school in Queens.
The book was on a list of required reading for incoming sixth graders, who were meant to write an essay about it as part of a summer reading assignment. But the book was removed from the list when parents complained, after which The Daily News broke the story under the headline, "Queens sixth graders no longer must read racy 'Diary of a Part-Time Indian,', which should probably be your first clue that nobody involved in challenging this book actually made the fairly necessary move of reading it first. (If you have read it—and you totes should, because it's amazing—you'll know that "racy" is one thing it most decidedly isn't. Between the bullying, the alcoholism, and the general desperation of its protagonist's life on the Spokane Indian Reservation, it's probably one of the least sexy YA books out there.)
It doesn't take long for the source of the confusion to become apparent: as it turns out, one parent named Kelly-Ann McMullan-Preiss simply opted for the technique, prized by lazy outrage-seekers everywhere, of thumbing through the text until she found the word "masturbation," and then lambasting Sherman Alexie's National Book Award-winning YA novel as being "about masturbation" and "like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for kids."
To which we say, OMG YOU HAVEN'T READ FIFTY SHADES OF GREY EITHER, HAVE YOU?!! ADMIT IT!
Of course, this isn't the first time Alexie's book has been challenged; people have been freaked out about its gritty and incisive portrait of family dysfunction, alcoholism, abuse, bullying, and neglect ever since it came out in 2007. And of course, parents are entitled to raise their concerns about required school reading, and to question books that contain concepts they feel their kids can't handle. (Although in this case, clearly the motivation wasn't the well-being of children so much as the awkwardness that one parent felt about possibly having to explain to her son what "masturbation" is.) But can the anger of would-be book banners really be taken seriously when they clearly haven't read the titles they want to remove from classrooms? Or should they be able to prove that they've read and considered the book critically before responding to it, the same way a student would?
Have you read this novel? What did you think? Should it be required reading in a middle school?