An Idaho school district will remove Sherman Alexie’s novel and semi-memoir The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian from its cultural diversity curriculum.
The Idaho Statesman reports that Meridian School Board members placed a hold on the book a few weeks ago after parents complained about it containing themes and language that weren’t appropriate for high schoolers.
The board voted 2-to-1 to extend the hold after two hours of testimony Tuesday night, both for and against keeping the book in public schools. The majority came out in support of the book’s removal.
“I do not want our children exposed to explicit, filthy, racist things,” grandmother Sharon Blair told the school board. “Please do the courageous thing and remove this book from the curriculum.”
A Meridian teacher testified that the novel was engaging for many students. One high school student presented more than 350 signatures against the hold, saying that education shouldn’t be censored.
The Absolutely True Diary was published in 2007 and has since won many awards, including the National Book Award. Alexie’s novel is semi-autobiographical, recounting living on the Spokane Indian Reservation before attending an all-white public high school off the reservation.
The coming of age story touches on alcohol use, homosexuality, violence, tragic deaths and poverty, which has led districts to ban the book from school libraries or to remove it from reading requirements in Oregon, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Washington and Wyoming.
Alexie’s novel has been in the top 10 most frequently challenged books from 2009 to 2012, according to the American Library Association.
NPR’s StateImpact project in Florida interviewed Alexie in 2013 about the impact of books and touched on his controversial novels. When asked about The Absolutely True Diary being banned, he says it means that he wrote a great book.
“I wrote the book that needs to be read. Percival Everett, the writer, always says that if you’re getting banned then you’re offending the right monsters … Repressive, conservatives religious freaks who want to control everybody’s reading material, not just their own children.”
The school district will now be looking for a book to replace The Absolutely True Diary to uphold its curriculum requirements.
The Multnomah County Library choose Alexie’s work for the 2013 “Everybody Reads” program. In a conversation with Literary Arts broadcast on Think Out Loud last March, Sherman said his books were a “sliver of light” for poor, rural kids.
“If you’re a poor kid in this country, the only thing that’s going to save you is books. That’s your only chance. And to have a kid fall in love with books because of mine? That’s incredible,” he said.