The list of frequently banned or challenged books for a particular year or decade typically looks like a list of the best in young adult literature, with a few gay penguins thrown in to shake things up. Something about teenagers thinking that really freaks out the squares. If you're a teenager, I hope that makes you feel powerful.

One of the most frequently banned and challenged books of the last several years is Sherman Alexie's YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about a teenager who leaves the Spokane Indian Reservation to go to a better, wealthier, mostly white high school. There's a lot in this book about growing up in poverty, a lot about discovering who you are and how your past will inform and challenge who you become. Because the narrator is a 14-year-old boy, there's a fair amount of thinking about sex, though not a lot of action. Because he's growing up in poverty, there's a fair amount of substance abuse and death. Neil Gaiman sums it up in his blurb on the dust jacket when he says it's "funny and heartwarming and honest and wise and smart" and also likely to be "winning awards and being banned."

I read this book as an adult, but I saw a lot of my teenaged self in Junior. He is a smart poor kid. He loves where he comes from, but he has to leave home in order to survive. He feels guilty for leaving. We belong to some of the same tribes, Junior and me.

Like so many banned books, it's sadly ironic that this book gets banned. It's banned because someone wants to protect teenagers from all the scary, bad stuff this book talks about, but it's exactly the kind of book that might save them from it. If you're a bookish person, you can probably remember a book that blew your mind at 14 or so, a book that helped you to know yourself, a book you read at just the right time. This is that book for someone. I hope it's on the shelf when they need it.

Diary has been banned or challenged due to "offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group."


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