Series: What Are Our Kids Reading In School?

Part 1: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

Articles in this series examine what books are approved for our students to read in the State of California.

Being a parent to a teen can often present unique challenges of worrying about their health, happiness, friends, and what activities they may be participating in when we are and are not watching over their shoulder. What we may not expect is that the very thing we may be trying to protect them from is not something they read on twitter or snapchat, but rather something handed to them in their English class. For some parents this may be an eye opening experience to hear just a few things being provided to our children without our knowledge or even a warning from the teacher, the school, or even the California Department of Education.

Part 1: The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie

Approved for 9th grade and older

Book Synopsis according to Amazon: 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… Based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Amazon Reviews: 4.5 stars
Common Sense Media: Age 14+ 5 Stars
Goodreads.com: 4.1 stars 186,666 ratings and 20,717 Reviews

Common Book Excerpts:

“So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me. I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.”

While much of the above seems innocent enough, concerns have arisen about this book due to quite a few areas of the text relating to sexual content.

Parents may want to be aware of excerpts such as:

“I spend hours in the bathroom with a magazine that has one thousand pictures of naked movie stars:

naked woman + right hand = happy happy joy joy

Yep, that’s right, I admit that I masturbate.
I’m proud of it.
I’m good at it.
I’m ambidextrous.
If there were a Professional Masturbators League,
I’d get drafted number one and make millions of dollars.

And maybe you’re thinking, ‘Well, you really shouldn’t be talking about masturbating in public.’
Well, tough, I’m going to talk about it because
EVERYBODY does it. And EVERYBODY likes it.
And if God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then
God wouldn’t have given us thumbs.
So I thank God for my thumbs.”

Recent News About the Author: According to an expose published in NPR, over 10 women came forward with stories about Sherman Alexie. According to an article published by NPR on March 5, 2018, “In all, 10 women spoke to NPR about Alexie, who is a married man. Most of the women wanted to remain anonymous, but a clear pattern emerged: The women reported behavior ranging from inappropriate comments both in private and in public, to flirting that veered suddenly into sexual territory, unwanted sexual advances and consensual sexual relations that ended abruptly. The women said Alexie had traded on his literary celebrity to lure them into uncomfortable sexual situations.”

The article describes many of the interviews including one about Elissa Washuta. “Alexie has enormous influence on the careers of Native American writers…(Elissa Washuta) met Alexie when she was getting ready to publish her first book, and she was hoping that he could help her with it. She went out one night with a group of people that included Alexie. She was chatting with him when, ‘seemingly apropos of nothing, Sherman told me that he could have sex with me if he wanted to,’ she says. ‘But he used a stronger word, beginning with F. You know, he had not said it quietly, he had not whispered it. It seemed that the men we were talking to could have heard it. I couldn’t believe that somebody would say something to me like that. This older man who I didn’t know, who was much more powerful than me.’

Washuta says that although she was worried that the other men who were with them — all part of the local literary scene — had heard Alexie, she didn’t have the nerve to say anything about it at the time. ‘I felt I really needed his approval and I needed his help in order to get this book off the ground,’ she says. ‘And so as uncomfortable as I was, I felt I could laugh off that comment in a way. But I still felt that he had so much power that I should probably not make a fuss about this.’

If you should determine that a book is objectionable to you, you may request an alternate assignment from your child’s teacher. Keep in mind, under current law, they may not be required to provide you this option.

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