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The Absolutely True Diary of Real-Time Book Censorship

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Rita Meade

Staff Writer

Rita Meade is a public library manager (and children's librarian at heart) who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Here at Book Riot, she hosts the Dear Book Nerd podcast, a bi-weekly bookish advice show. She reads as much as she possibly can (and it's still never enough), reviews children's books for "School Library Journal," and is the author of a forthcoming picture book called Edward Gets Messy (Simon & Schuster Young Readers, 2016). She also occasionally writes about funny library stuff over on her blog, and even less occasionally sings in a librarian band. Blog: Screwy Decimal Twitter: @screwydecimal

Another day, another attempted book banning.

In February 2014, a grandparent in Meridian, Idaho filed a formal complaint with the school district against including Sherman Alexie’s multiple-award winning YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in curriculum being taught to sophomores in a public high school. (The grandparent apparently took issue with the “cursing and sexual references” in Alexie’s highly acclaimed story about the life of a modern Native American teen.)

The complaint led to a public meeting of the school board on April 1st to discuss the issue and ultimately vote on whether or not to keep the book, which has been on “hold” since February, as part of the school’s supplemental curriculum.

This is not the first time Alexie’s work has been on the chopping block (you can read just a couple of examples here and here), and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but it IS the first time I saw with my very own eyes this kind of book censorship unfold in real time – thanks to a librarian on Twitter who believes in the power of public discourse.

Gretchen Caserotti, a public library director in Meridian, attended the meeting and tweeted the proceedings as they occurred. The result is (in my opinion) a fascinating and chilling snapshot of the decisions that go into the attempted banning of a book and an important exhibition of the kinds of problems that librarians, teachers, and others face when fighting censorship.

My thanks to Gretchen for allowing me to compile and post her tweets about the meeting. Here they are in order (I also suggest that you view her timeline from that night for yourself for the most complete picture possible):

Well, there you have it. While a motion to ban the novel outright did not pass, it’s still being held in a sort of censorship “limbo,” according to the Idaho Education News. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian might in fact get reinstated if district teachers are able to find an “appropriate substitute” (however that is actually defined). But until then, sorry, Mr. Alexie. Sorry, librarians and teachers. And most of all…sorry, teens of Meridian.