Saturday, September 28, 2013

Banned Books Week: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I must say, I am shocked at how well Banned Books Week went over at my library.  Pleasantly shocked, certainly.  But still, I am in awe of just how positively the community responded to it.  People were curious, and asked questions.  And they checked out the books.  Of the Top Ten Banned Books of 2012, only The Kite Runner and Beloved were left on the shelf when I closed up this afternoon.  There seems to have been a reluctance to take the books with the pink slips on them, but hopefully those will go out next year.  Hopefully by then, the library will be in its new home (just down the street) and I'll have more room to make displays.

I also celebrated Banned Books Week by listening to book number two on the 2012 list, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  The author himself read the book.

Checkouts: audiobook not owned by either library
Typical reader: teens, Native Americans, fans of the author, fans of banned books
Source: my hometown library

Synopsis: Arnold "Junior" Spirit is a 14-year-old Spokane boy who lives on a reservation.  At the encouragement of a teacher, he transfers to a better school 22 miles away, where the only non-Caucasian is its Indian mascot.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Banned/challenged for: offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group

This is a slice-of-life story of a teen boy who changes his own life by upsetting all norms of his tribe and going to a school off the "rez."  It follows roughly a year of Junior's life, as he navigates his freshman year, friendships, racism and ostracism, loss, and basketball.

In listening to the audiobook version of this novel, I missed out on the art.  However, I gained the hilarious narration of Mr. Alexie.  I stuck the first CD in my car's player before I left the library parking lot, and proceeded to laugh all the way home.  The humor is deadpan and dry, a lot of the time.  But also, the voice the author uses for Junior's voice and internal monologue has an amazingly familiar accent.  Apparently, a brain-damaged teen Spokane boy from a reservation in Washington State sounds like a Finlander Yooper.  Seriously.  He sounds like my dad's Uncle Reino.  If you don't know what a thick Yooper accent sounds like, watch the movie Fargo and listen, particularly to the women in the bar ... or listen to this audiobook.

I loved this book.  It covers a wide range of emotions and life experiences.  Pretty much any teen could read it and recognize something for his or her life.  It's humorous, and it also has plenty of hyperbole.  Many of the stories remind me of American tall tales.

Does this book deserve its negative acclaim?  Let's break it down.
  1. Offensive language.  Everyone has a different definition of this.  But yes, there is a sentence where a character not only drops the F-bomb, but also uses the N-word.  It's a pretty knockout use, too, that really covers ...
  2. Racism.  Yup.  The sentence with the aforementioned words was definitely racist.  And there's also racism between Native Americans and Caucasians.  There's also a sort of racism within an ethnic people, as demonstrated by how other reservation inhabitants called Junior an "apple:" red on the outside, white on the inside.  But it's intrinsic to the story.  If everybody got along, if the US government had not discriminated against Native Americans and pushed many onto reservations, if ethnic groups did not stick together and create out-groups and outcasts, then maybe we wouldn't need stories that deal with racism.  People that complain about racism in this book need a reality check.
  3. Sexually explicit.  This isn't 50 Shades.  The most Junior does with a girl is kiss.  There are "gay" jokes.  The most sexually explicit thing would have to be his admissions that he masturbates.
  4. Unsuited for age group.  Because teens don't read about teens?  Sure, it's not what you might want to hand to a child in elementary school, but that's not its intended audience.  Teens are.  And teens can and should read it, and they can and should handle the book just fine.
In sum, beyond one over-the-top sentence that was important to a plot element (white guy insults Junior, Junior punches him, they become friends), this book is tame and appropriate for its intended audience.

What did you read for Banned Books Week?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Banned Books Week!

It's my favorite library time of year again: Banned Books Week!  This year, it's going amazingly well for me.  On Monday, before the small public library opened, I created a book display.  It had the Top Ten Banned Books of 2012, each with the rationale for banning and challenging.  Impressively, the library has nine out of ten; only And Tango Makes Three is not owned.  I also put together various books for the rest of the display shelving, and some face-out books above the shelves and on some tables.  The face-out books had slips of paper on them, with information about their challenges.

On Tuesday, my staff told me what a hit the display was.  I was shocked, because I honestly didn't know how it would go over in a small, rural town with an aged service population.  But a high school teacher checked out two young adult books to discuss censorship, and the books themselves, with his classes.  Patrons - and staff members - were intrigued by the reasons on the books, and wanted more!  So I labeled the rest of the books on display.

Here are some pictures of Banned Books Week in my little library.  I'm so pleased at the reception it's received.

Top Ten Banned Books of 2012
Several are checked out!
The key to a successful Banned Books Week is to celebrate the freedom to read.
The note on The Witches declares that Roald Dahl is a misogynist.

Classics are often banned and challenged.
The Call of the Wild
The Call of the Wild was burned in 1929 in Italy and Yugoslavia for being "too radical."

There are some wild women in books.
Harriet will teach your children to spy, lie, and swear, while Scarlett behaved immorally.

Children's and young adults' books are frequently called into question.
Remember, read freely and responsibly, and you and you alone are responsible for what you read.  Not other people.  And you have no right to tell other people what they can and cannot read, either.  Only minors in your care are subject to your views.

I have been reading some books greatly appropriate for this week, and will have to review them by the end of Saturday!  Stay tuned for a double feature of Burned and its recently published sequel, Smoke, by Ellen Hopkins, and a review of the audio version of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (one of 2012's top ten), written and read by Sherman Alexie.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Yay for YA: Fire & Ash

At last, Jonathan Maberry's fourth installment in the Rot & Ruin quartet has been released!  After Flesh & Bone, I really wasn't sure where this series was going to go.  I'm glad I stuck around to find out.

I've reviewed the previous three books on this blog.
Rot & Ruin
Dust & Decay
Flesh & Bone

Checkouts: Coming soon to the school library; has one hold.
Series checkouts: 29
Typical reader: Fans of the series
Source: Snowbound Books

Synopsis: It's the conclusion of Rot & Ruin!  If you've read the previous three books, you'll need to find out how it's wrapped up.  And that's all I have to say on that.

My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

Hmm, that cover.  It's my one little quibble.  The first three covers are awesome.  This one?  I'm not sure what the artist was going for.  The guy on the left looks too old, really, to be Benny.  The ... woman? ... on the right is a mystery.  Is that a zombie?  While grey skin makes sense, the clown-like accents are weird.

But anyway.  We're not here to judge a book by its cover, right?

The conclusion of a series is hard to critique, and remain spoiler-free.  Therefore, this will be a short review.  Let's make bullet points.

  • The excellent storytelling still holds up.
  • The action had me on the edge of my seat.
  • Most story threads get tied up.  (Hey, it's not an omniscient narration; not everything can be known.  That's fine.)
  • If you were missing the rogue's gallery of the Rot & Ruin, particularly old friends, you'll probably be satisfied with what this installment offers.
  • Grimm is an awesome dog.
  • And Joe Ledger in this series makes me curious about Mr. Maberry's other books.  If the other Ledger books of the same continuity, I'll definitely have to read them at some point.
  • As with many science fiction and dystopian series, there's a bit of social commentary.  I particularly liked this quote, and what else Ledger had to say: "Sure, governments need to keep some secrets, but too often the people inside the government create for themselves the illusion that because they know things nobody else does, it makes them more powerful. That kind of thinking creates a kind of contempt for anyone on the outside." (Page 275, hardcover edition)
In sum, this is a most satisfying conclusion to a series I really enjoyed.  Now, I must get this book cataloged, because after only one library day, I have a waiting list for it.  :)  My preteen boys love the Rot & Ruin!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Yay for YA: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

I've gushed over books that have received the Michael L. Printz Award, or have been honor winners of the award, before, so I'll spare you the swooning with this review.  On the other hand, this book (a Printz honor recipient) won a Stonewall Book Award, as well as the Pura Belpre Award, and probably others but the copy I had access to only had so much cover space for award stickers.  And it has a great title.

Today I shall tell you about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  Doesn't it just sound grand?

Checkouts: 1 at the small public library
Typical reader: Teens drawn to literature that isn't heteronormative (I'm not trying for the acronym that keeps growing ...), fans of the author and/or award-winning books
Source: My small public library

Synopsis: In this slice-of-life tale set in the late 1980s, two Mexican-American teen boys become friends and try to find their places in life.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

For having such a grandiose name harkening back to a well-known Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (Ari) does not have many far-reaching ambitions.  He feels like his life is someone else's idea.  And in the summer of 1987, he was not aspiring to much beyond lazing about for the summer, perhaps at the pool despite not knowing how to swim.  But at the pool, he meets Dante, another Mexican-American teen boy with a lofty name, who offers to teach him how to swim and thus ignites a friendship.

This is a pretty pedestrian story, very slice-of-life, without goals.  Nothing exciting or thrilling happens for the first hundred pages.  (Then something potentially life-changing does.  But you know me, I don't do spoilers.)  Yet it has so much heart.  Plot is secondary to character and relationship growth and development.  Self-discovery and the complexities of friendships are the key elements of this book, and they really shine.

One part I had problem with was the resolution of the story.  I didn't particularly believe it.  Since I don't give away spoilers, it's hard to explain, but it didn't ring true for me.  While I've been known to be a poor judge of a certain characteristic pivotal to the end of the book, I also don't believe I was led as a reader to reach the conclusion that Ari did.  Your mileage may vary.