I loved The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian so much that I gave it away to someone I thought would love it just as much. I guess she did, because she never returned it. Sherman Alexie is just that good. Honestly, I couldn’t believe Meghan Cox Gurdon could possibly be calling his work depraved. It’s a book that opens eyes- not one that turns out the light.
I am thrilled that he wrote a response to the Wall Street Journal, in their Speakeasy blog, titled “Why The Best Kids’ Books Are Written In Blood”. And I think what he said about his personal experience with books is so important to the way adults think about teens’ reading. Their experiences, and their reading, are often multidimensional. No one made me follow up Inherit the Wind with Ira Stone’s thick biography Clarence Darrow for the Defense. Reading Carrie didn’t stop me from reading Little Women. It doesn’t have to be an either/or kind of situation. And this is what Alexie expresses in a very personal way. He writes,
“As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life”.
I know that’s an awfully long quote, but I think his words here are so important. In her book Don’t Tell The Grownups, Alison Lurie writes about how the very nature of important children’s books is subversive. Those books aren’t written to make grownups feel comfortable. They continue to be important because children need to find within themselves what makes grownups uncomfortable, and those books are where they discover how to live in a world in which they have very little control.
Thank you, Mr. Alexie, for speaking up.