The Helena School District superintendent upheld a review committee’s recommendation to retain “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie.
The committee voted unanimously to continue using the book as a resource option to support the high school English curriculum after a Helena mom asked for it to be removed and a public hearing was held on the issue.
Michele Smith, the parent who requested the book be removed from the curriculum, said Tuesday she won’t appeal the decision.
“I’m disappointed, but not surprised,” she said. “I decided not to appeal because it wouldn’t change anything. They seem pretty set with their decision and nothing more I could do or say would change that.”
Smith filed the request in October to remove the book which she feels has obscene, vulgar and pornographic language.
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“Whatever purpose the author is attempting to accomplish is completely negated by the many objectionable parts scattered throughout this entire book,” she wrote in her request.
Smith argued that the book damages young people by perpetuating filth, and was one of a handful who testified in removing the book at the public hearing held in December. Dozens testified to keep the book and more than 100 people attended.
Alexie’s “True Diary” is written from a teenage boy’s perspective of growing up in a challenging environment on the Spokane Indian Reservation and about looking beyond adolescent awkwardness and finding the courage to strive for a better life. The lead character, Arnold “Junior” Spirit, leaves the poverty-stricken reservation school to attend an all-white school more than 20 miles away in hopes to getting a better education. He is shunned by his tribe, abandoned by his best friend, and describes the trials of living with an alcoholic father.
The book is a New York Times bestseller, won the National Book Award in 2007 in the “Young People’s Literature” section and is on many recommended book lists.
Parts of the book touch on sensitive subjects, such as a teenage boy’s sexual arousals, death and racism — topics that have caused controversy in Helena and in other communities. In 2008, Crook County High School in Prineville, Ore., removed the book from a freshman English class after a father challenged it with the school board. However, Alexie’s book is used across the country in hundreds of classrooms without being challenged.
The committee’s decision to keep the book was based on five points. First the resource option meets the mandated state standards for the integration of Indian Education for All. Second, board policy says a book will not be excluded because of race, nationality, political or religious values of the writer or of the material’s style and language. Third, board policy says books are chosen for value of interest and enlightenment of all students in the community. The committee wrote that the many students who testified spoke of the positive impact the book had on them. Fourth, the option for alternative curricular assignment was offered; and fifth, the book is highly recommended by recognized review authorities and received many national literary awards.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or email@example.com