tw: use of the following derogatory words: I*ndian, n***er, f**got and r**ard, extreme bullying, alcoholism, family death, disordered eating
In my review, I will talk about sexual assault. It’s not graphic but please practice self care if things like that are triggering for you.
This book was chosen as the book of the month for the Banned Book club. Click on the banner to be taken to the Goodreads page. You can expect a review and I will also address the different controversies that surround this book and the author.
I had this book read to me in high school. I know that sounds weird but my school must have thought that a lot of us couldn’t read or something, despite the fact that I read almost the entire library and was in there just about everyday. I can’t stand having books being read to me so I blocked a lot of this book out because I was a rebellious teenager. Plus, I don’t think we ever actually finished this book, if memory serves me right. I remembered none of it so it was refreshing to read this on my own as part of the Banned Book club.
This book was what I would call a slice of life. There was no real plot per se. We basically follow the life of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, for a year as he navigates being Native American in a predominately white school. We also learn a lot about Native Americans and the reservations.
The way this was written was very interesting (as it was first person) and I think it fit the story well. I felt like I was talking to a friend about life and everything. If not for the trigger warnings, this would be a really good middle grade novel. Don’t get me wrong, I think middle schoolers can handle some things but this book is pretty graphic sometimes with the swearing and I don’t think it would be super appropriate to have that. I also appreciated the illustrations. It read younger and it felt like a younger novel. I honestly believed that Junior was as young as he was, which I cannot remember how young he was. Oops.
The book showcases a lot of what Native Americans went through and are still going through. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and disgusting that we treat people this way. I did a report on Native Americans as part of a college class and I was absolutely aghast at the treatment of Native Americans from the US government. Just absolutely aghast. I did a powerpoint and I kid you not, I had about 5 (five) slides full of ridiculous laws that were enacted upon Native Americans. I even had it tiny font to fit everything. Often times, while reading, my heart would break for Junior. He suffered so much loss and heartbreak for being so young. Nobody should ever have to experience the things he went through.
Overall, this was a good book. Despite the controversy, I’m glad I read it. I really think it highlights things that are happening in our own backyard. It really makes you think about how cruelly we treat people, even unintentionally. Even though the author has done some things, I think the book itself is important.
This book has a couple of different types of controversy surrounding it. One is the content of the book itself. The other part is the author. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to discuss both.
the book controversy;
According to pbs.org, the book was banned and challeneged because of it’s “excerpts on masterbation” along with vulgarity (which I assume is the swearing), racism and anti Christian content. The book was apperently encourages porngraphy. In all reality, Junior mentions a Playboy magazine.
If I may insert my thoughts, this book was published in 2007. I was 14 in 2007. The content of his book honestly wasn’t that bad and I saw worse when I was 14. (Sorry Mom and Dad, I read some pretty risque books that you didn’t know about…) Yeah, this book mentions masterbation and porn. The dude is young. He is experiencing puberty. What did y’all expect was going to happen? Honestly. I can see where it might not be appropriate for younger audiences like 12 year olds. But I was entering high school in 14 and I think that is appropriate time to have books mention things like that.
As for the vulgarity, racism and anti Christian content, that much was to be expected. I didn’t find the vulgarity to be that bad. I have word worse coming out of my friend’s and even my own mouth. (Don’t play Overwatch with me. I get baaaaaaad.) I cuss like a sailor. The racism was naturally going to happen in this book considering the content, which is about Native Americans. Alexie was just honestly showing what Native Americans go through. The anti Christian content wasn’t that bad either but honestly, I’m not the best person to be judging something like that. Junior expressed a lot of disdain for God after he went through several different losses but I found that to be expected. Going through loss is bound to test anyone’s faith.
the author controversy;
About 10 women in total have come forward and said that Sherman Alexie has sexually assaulted them. He has since issued an apology and I couldn’t tell from the article that I used (which is from the Guardian) that said if charges were pressed or anything of that nature. I know that he was listed again in another website along with several other authors like Tristina Wright and Jay Asher.
Obviously, what Sherman Alexie had done is disgusting. I absolutely do not condone it. I was aware of this while reading the book. I did not buy the book so no monetary support was given to him.
How does one separate the author from the book? I adore Harry Potter and helped me become who I am today. But JK Rowling has said some pretty horrid things and as a result, I had to unfollow her on Twitter. Can we like the book but not like the author? Does reading said book actually support the author even if you don’t buy the book? These were things that were running through my head as I read this book. I didn’t want to support this author but I did want to read the book. I don’t think this answer will become easier to answer as we finally start holding people accountable for their actions and more and more authors/movie stars/celebrity actions start coming out of the woodwork.
Overall, it really is unfortunate that Alexie has behaved the way he did. His book was good and he represents Native American writers, which are not talked about a lot but honestly need to be. He could have done so much for the community but instead chose to do the things he did. I hope that the bookish community can continue to grow and be better.
Normally I recommend or not recommend the book. With this case, it’s hard. The author isn’t good but the book is and I think needs to be read. But like I mentioned above, how do you separate the book from the author? I am not sure, right now, if I can recommend the book in good consciousness. But I certainly will not judge you if you chose to read the book.