In honor of Banned Books Week, here’s one of the YA classics that is frequently banned. I had the occasion to read it over the summer, and I just have so much admiration for Arnie and his courage. So, read a Banned Book this week, and if you haven’t before, pick up this one (or Thirteen Reasons Why).
Feeling downtrodden because of his medical abnormalities and his outcast and bullied social status, Junior or “Arnie” dares to dream that he can leave his Indian Reservation to have a better life and education off the rez. As he talks about the sad realities and choices his family makes just to survive, he discovers that he doesn’t want their life. He wants to be a cartoonist and live his dreams, unlike his older sister who was once the brightest kid but now just lives in the basement. When Junior loses his control and throws a book at his teacher to protest how Indians are being poorly treated by the world and have to use ancient geometry books, his teacher, Mr. P, instead of being angry at him, teaches him to hope to be different. He tells him to not give up and accept how the white people treated them hundreds of years ago or how the Indians accept that this life is all that they can have, and they give up on achieving things that matter. With this new revelation, Junior decides to attend a new school, located in a prosperous white farm town, and though his parents try to gently talk him out of it, they eventually support him and warn him that every other Indian will believe he is turning his back on them and their way of life. As Junior deals with the fallout of his choices, he grows up and learns to stand up for himself and what he wants, but also he learns acceptance and is accepted in turn even though he’s different.
It’s a poignant novel exposing the reality of Native American life and how the possibilities can change when you make them change. For a boy who seemed to be trapped and abused, even he can be set free to offer his gifts to the world. Hopefully he will inspire you, too, to stand against the crowd and be yourself.
Notes: This books contains sexual references (but not sexual actions), offensive language, alcohol, death, and violent situations. Overall, it’s just honest. Don’t let the notes scare you, but do know that’s why this book has been banned (though it shouldn’t be!)