Published: September 12, 2007
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
I was supposed to read this book about a year ago--it was one of the selections in my book club, but I wasn't going to be able to attend that meeting so I ended up not reading this book. Then, I needed something to read on my phone during National Library week (or whatever) and this book had come up as being the most challenged book in libraries. Well, I love a good controversy, so I finally got around to reading this.
And, here is my question...what is supposed to be so controversial about this book. According to the ALA, it is:
Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”
Anti-family? Really? If anything, this book is incredibly pro-family! Junior's parents are not perfect, but they are the best they can be and they love Junior and Junior loves him,. I'm not sure how that qualifies as being anti-family. Cultural insensitivity? This is one of the most culturally sensitive books I have ever read. And, yes there are some scenes of drugs/alcohol/smoking, a few f-bombs here and there, and a description of what Junior does in his alone time (I'll give you a hint--it's the same thing almost every single 14 year old boy on the planet does). However, none of that is presented in a gratuitous way. It's Junior's life and this book would not be true with a white-washed version of his life.
Look, I'm not going to go any further arguing the so-called "reasons" for challenging this book--it just makes me too upset. I'll get off my soap box now....
Obviously, I loved this book. Junior was a fantastic character and I fell a little bit in love with him (and then went head over heels for him in the scene where he's interviewed by local media). The depictions of life on the reservation are hard to read, but I believe that they are realistic. I know life is hard on the reservations, and Alexie does not shy away from that. Yet, at the same time, he does not fall into self-pity.
What I found unexpected was how Alexie contrasts Juniors reservation world and his "white" world. In short, neither world is perfect, but neither world is doomed. People are people and everyone has their own value and their own struggles. I don't know if I was expected for own group to come out ahead of the other in some way, but I am very glad that didn't happen.
I truly feel that this is an important book for young people to read. Yes, it examines the struggles of modern Native Americans but, more importantly, it is about finding your own place in the world. And to all those people who try and challenge this book....don't worry, when my children are older, they won't be checking this book out of the library. I'm going to buy them their own copies.
I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.