Featured YA Diverse Author of the Month: Sherman Alexie

This week is banned books week, where libraries (and booksellers, teachers, publishers, everyone!) comes together to celebrate the freedom to choose what you read.  When I was scrolling through this year’s challenged books, I was happily surprised that Sherman Alexie’s book did not appear on this year’s list! Usually, in years past, it ends up at the very top of the list for the following reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence.

Of course, there are other great challenged books that I love that did appear on this year’s list. (I fangirled hard after I read Looking for Alaska). I imagine that it is not the last time Sherman Alexie’s book will show up on one of the lists. But I wanted to take Banned Books Week to tell you about one of my favorites and give Sherman Alexie a chance to tell you about his very popular banned book, himself. The first time I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I felt like I had just experienced something really magical.

“Above all else, the book is funny. The book is honest about some terrible things, a terrible life” –Sherman Alexie

It felt real, and above all else, a non-romanticized story about Native Americans. I hung onto every word. I had never read a young adult book like it before. This book gave me a glimpse into a world that seemed very different from my own. After all, this is what diverse books do. It transcended me into Junior’s shoes. This story became a window for me, peaking into a reality different from my own. Yet, at the same time I knew that it was the reality, like a mirror, for some kids. Actually, it was Sherman Alexie's reality:

“…I was a kid who didn’t have a childhood. I had to grow up really fast. There was nothing that could protect me from that. The idea that some book, that some idea contained in a book, could somehow be more damaging than what I was experiencing on a daily basis is pretty naïve.” –Sherman Alexie

Did you know that the challenged book sales actually increase when a community attempts to ban a book?

“In my experience in the young adult world, I’ve run into two generally distinct types of people: those who seek to protect children, who think they need to be protected from certain kinds of literature; and those who realize that young people cannot be protected that way, that the world is a different place now...” –Sherman Alexie

People challenge books often because there is a misunderstanding that different people can look at the exact same book in different ways.

“I write children’s literature for kids who aren’t having childhoods, who are forced into adulthood really early. Those are the kids nobody’s really looking out for. Those are the kids nobody’s trying to talk to in large number. Those are the kids that get ignored…” –Sherman Alexie

That’s not to say we have to agree with all parts and ideas in a book. We can (and should!) have these conversations about what we find problematic.

“…[My book] has been controversial in some regards, in certain communities, with certain libraries, with certain booksellers, because it deals with some intense issues, some sex, some violence and alcohol abuse, poverty… While taking those issues seriously, I was also funny about them. I was speaking to a large swatch of young people who are dealing with the exact stuff... about real problems teens are facing”. 

But above all else, censorship is harmful. And this is the week to come together to celebrate the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. Check out more YA Challenged books from your nearest ALD branch.

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