Banned Books Week kicks off today. Find a description and a list of the top banned books of 2011 here.
To celebrate, I read one of 2011's most banned books, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It's a semi-autobiographical story about a 14 year old Indian boy going to an all-white school off the reservation where he lives. The introduction promises that you'll laugh in about a dozen different ways while reading, which I did. I also teared up quite a few times as well. This story is deeply moving, and Alexie pulls no punches whatsoever as he portrays what it's like to grow up feeling like an outsider. The story addresses race, poverty, alcoholism, and yes, even masturbation. Hey, the main character is a 14 year old boy!
Those are the very reasons cited when people have voted to ban this book. I found this on Wikipedia, which says that the Richland School Board in Washington initially banned the book, but when they did so, all ten copies were checked out of the library, and there were holds on the returned copies. So the members actually read the book at that time and discovered that it was, in their words, outstanding. They had banned a book without reading it. They lifted the ban a month after initiating it when it would have never happened in the first place if they'd actually read it. This makes me want to scream.
At its heart, this book is about loneliness. The main character, Arnold Spirit, Jr., feels half-Indian when he's at school in Rearden and half-white when he's home on the Spokane Indian reservation. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book:
"I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream.
I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms."
And here's another great quote:
"If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing."
What's not to love about this? It's a great message. It tells teenagers, hey, you belong somewhere, you're worth something, you have a reason to be proud of yourself. I loved reading this as an adult, but I would've loved this so much more as a teenager.
Find your tribes. Embrace who you are. And celebrate Banned Books Week by reading something from the list.