The Absolutely True review of a book that’s not about masturbation

diaryPTIndiancvrThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I’m going to review this book, but first let’s talk about masturbation, OK. everyone uncomfortable now?

If you haven’t heard,  some over-anxious  parents fought to have The Absolute True Diary removed from a sixth grade summer reading list because it was “racy.”  The truth: the book mentions that the main character, a teenage boy, masturbates a lot.  Shocker.

So what’s the big deal? One parent said she didn’t want a book deciding when she would have the awkward conversation about masturbation with her son.

First of all, what makes her think parents can pick the right time to talk about anything to their kids? Life doesn’t wait until you’re ready. And if this mother hasn’t talked to her 11 or 12YO about masturbation yet, she’s already much too late. Don’t believe me? I have sources!* Oh, and BTW, if any kids are reading this, masturbation is completely normal.

Moving on… Despite one mother’s really laughable claim that this book is the “Fifty Shades of Grey for teens,” The Absolute True Diary  is actually relatively tame when it comes to sex.

What’s not tame about this book, is its brutal honesty about many major issues teens have to face: racism, poverty, child abuse, alcoholism, and death. Frankly, I bet these topics make many parents who mistakenly think their kids are protected from all that’s bad in the world much more uncomfortable than the topic of masturbation.

In The Absolutely True Diary, Arnold Spirit, a brainy Native American boy with few friends,  makes a daring attempt to escape the poverty and the fabulously bad educational system on his reservation by attending the nearby all-white school. Of course, that’s a  frying pan into the fire move. His choice means  he faces racism at his new school, and he’s treated like a traitor on the rez. I can imagine quite a few kids could relate to that no-win situation, no matter what their background is.

The brilliance of this book is that it deals with difficult issues head on and still manages to be incredibly funny and entertaining. While there’s a great deal of sadness in this story, The Absolutely True Diary offers the hope of resilience and transcendence. And Alexie doesn’t  over simplify it or preach. For instance, Arnold learns that some of the white kids have problems too, and his alcoholic father is one of his biggest supporters.

Even though 11 is probably not the optimum age for this book (I’d peg it at more like 14 and up), I bet many pre-teens could relate to it, and some might even need this book to know they aren’t alone in having to deal with seemingly impossible situations. (Read this wonderful opinion piece Alexie wrote on Why the best kids stories are written in blood. )

And yes it’s true, if your kid reads The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, it  might lead to some difficult conversations, but as a parent, you shouldn’t avoid those. You should welcome them.


*see The Baby Book by William Sears and Martha Sears, p. 560.
or It’s a Boy! by Michael Thompson and Theresa Baker p. 77, 88,.243, 270

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4 Responses to The Absolutely True review of a book that’s not about masturbation

  1. Sherman Alexie spoke at my University two years ago and he was incredible. I love this book.

    • sarazaske says:

      I’ve seen him speak once too. He’s so funny. This book is amazing as well. It almost hurt to hear parents against it for such a silly reason. But they probably just insured that their kid would read it anyway.

  2. That’s the biggest challenge–those difficult discussions. But, if we’d have them when kids are young, we’d avoid a lot of catastrophic problems later.

    • sarazaske says:

      Exactly. Alexie himself said that when he was young, people often would try to “save” him from bad things, but he said by then it was too late. I say better have those conversations too early than too late.

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