Earlier this month, the school district in Meridian, Idaho (a suburb of Boise) voted to remove the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by award winning contemporary author Sherman Alexie, from its high school curriculum.
The banning of the book, which is about a teenage boy overcoming the challenges of not fitting in, being bullied and struggling with a difficult home life, came after a group of parents complained that the novel contains profane language, adult situations and masturbation. A few of the parents went so far as to call it “anti-Christian”.
According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, the book, which is a National Book Award winner, has been challenged eight times since January 2013, and it was the second most challenged book in U.S. libraries in 2012.
So, how do you get high school students to read? Ban a book!
Following the removal of the book from the school’s reading list, student Brady Kissel organized a petition urging the school district to reinstate it. The petition garnered over 350 signatures, and included participation from school faculty and students.
“It’s just something I feel really passionate about. I don’t think education should have any censors, I think it spawns ignorance,” said Brady in an interview with a local news station.
The news story caught the attention of two Washington state women, friends Sara Baker and Jennifer Lott. Huge fans of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, they decided to raise money and buy copies for the Meridian students who wanted to read it.
The two women launched a Go Fund Me campaign to raise enough money to buy 350 books, but then the internet got involved, turning their “little book drive” into a 700+ book giveaway extravaganza!
“We love the book and wanted to share it with the students who were obviously disappointed with the school board’s decision.” – Sara Baker
Working with the independent bookstore, Rediscovered Bookshop, 315 books were distributed to Meridian students at a local park on April 23, World Book Night. After hearing about the ban, the publisher of the book, Little Brown, donated another 350 books to the cause.
The remainder of the donated books will be used to fulfill requests for Boise-area library and classroom sets and will then be made available to the public again, with students getting first priority.
Being such huge fans of the book, Sara and Jen were thrilled when they heard that Sherman Alexie himself commented on their efforts.
“I am honored by the hundreds of Meridian students who showed incredible passion and courage for books. Mine, yes, but literature in general. And Sara Baker and Jennifer Lott are friggin’ superheroes. If I ever get caught in a fire, I’m calling them.”
Sara and Jen shared this very apropos quote from Sherman Alexie’s “blasphemous” book, which says it all:
“It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.
You can do it.
I can do it.
Let’s do it.”
And so Sara, Jen and Brady did.