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Posts Tagged ‘Sherman Alexie’

AbsolutelyTrueDiary-SAlexie2I’m always glad to see that more and more publicity is given to banned books. Why? Because to me, banning books is the same as infringing on the right to free speech, except in print. Simple, right? Maybe even obvious.

I’ve pictured here the cover of number one of the ten top most frequently challenged YA (young adult) books in America, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It’s a YA novel about a boy on the Spokane reservation who starts going to an all-white farm-oriented high school. (I apologize for the blandness and brevity of that description, but I’m not going for a book review in this post, so please do read more about it.) However, this novel also tops the list of ALL of the top ten banned or challenged books of 2014.

Why is it challenged/banned? The ALA, (American Library Association) provides the following 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”.

Hmmmm  – everything teenagers are facing in everyday life nowadays.

But don’t take my word for it – please read more on the ALA’s page on banned and challenged books, how they come up with their determinations, and many more links, including the top hundred most challenged book by decade. This is fascinating reading to me because I am always amazed that in a country which so strongly defends freedom of speech, we want to burn those words when they’re written down.

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GirlReading-HelenaCavalheiro2Only because I’d decided to start reading a book I’ve had for a while on my “to-read” list by Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, did I go on to check out his website and blog, and come across this list compiled by NPR, (National Public Radio.)

Alexie linked to the list because his terrific YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was ranked #31. I do enjoy lists, and figured why not check it out. So what are teens reading? The list, a result of 75,220 votes in NPR’s Best-Ever Teen Fiction poll and compiled in August 2012, has ranked J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series number 1, followed by Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

It’s a list of classics such as The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, and more recent offerings by Laurie Halse Anderson, Lauren Oliver and John Green plus many other popular current authors. I’m surprised to see how many classics actually make it in the top portion of this list.

Want to see what NPR says are the Top 100 Teen Reads? Check it out here as well as the 235 other finalists. Descriptions of all books are also on the site. Have some summer reading time? You may want to start here!

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There’s plenty written about Reservation Blues, including that written by Alexie himself, so I’m not going to write any summaries or anything like that other than what appealed to me, personally. And that’s a lot. First, I realized I’m going to have to buy the book to have my own copy, as what I read belongs to my local library. That’s so I can go back in and visit from time to time.

I am moved by Alexie’s writing style – in some ways, almost a stream of consciousness, but we all know one doesn’t get published by going with only that. It’s HOW he writes that I’m drawn to – the fluidity, the interjections of things that may seem unrelated or perhaps we just never connected before. Like Big Mom and her relationship to the slaughtered horses … how they brought their songs back to her in the forms of others – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Marvin Gaye, (the latter two whom I was very fortunate to have seen in concert), and then they returned to earth. Is it so surprising that Robert Johnson, who bartered away his freedom, should come to Big Mom? Or that Thomas Builds-the-Fire should let Johnson’s guitar pass through his hands and Victor to become ensnared by it?

I read Reservation Blues and wished I knew Big Mom. Everyone needs Big Mom – loving, giving, spiritual, a healer, and yet objective, claiming to no particular situational outcome for anyone. I wish I couldn’t hear the horses scream … a too-piercing song. But Big Mom’s there to mourn for them and to keep their songs alive. And I am thankful. Woven into the story, the violent massacre tells part of the tribe’s history.

I am drawn in by Alexie’s subtleties,  such as the harmonica that Big Mom made for Robert Johnson and tossed to him. “He could feel a movement inside the wood, something familiar.” Was it his music, or was even Big Mom not powerful enough to out The Gentleman? Is it why Johnson decided to stay in Wellpinit? It was only one line that may have gone unnoticed but Reservation Blues seems packed with such subtleties, such fluid turns of the wrist. It’s a style I like, kind of filled with asides that maybe you get, maybe you don’t.

Reservation Blues follows a core group of characters that have strengths and weaknesses, their acceptance of life and their desires to escape or rail against it. Some of them survive the adversities, some don’t. And those who do, some better, some not so well. And if it’s hard to like Victor? a note from Junior to Big Mom tells us why he’s not as bad as he seems. But Victor’s weak and Johnson’s guitar has him in thrall. Again, maybe smaller points in the novel … maybe ones that encompass the whole story in one vignette.

And there’s magic – things that couldn’t be real, such as Junior’s appearance to Victor in the car, the guitar talking, the strings catching fire – or could they? Woven into the story, they become so believable they cannot be extricated. For me anyway. I surrender and I believe. And I follow the band Coyote Springs and its evolution, how it helps me get to know who’s in it, who they meet, where real hell is, where it’s not.

Does Reservation Blues depict life on the reservation today? I have no doubt. It doesn’t give the reader any kind of romantic view of the American Indian such as Alexie says seems common to some white people, New Agers, etc. The view is sometimes painful, sometimes simply life, sometimes just of people like the rest of us dealing with what every day brings. But it’s a different life than that of the rest of us – one with a different history, a different set of memories and tradition, and different challenges – not ours. And I like Alexie’s telling of it. He connects me. And I like how he does it.

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