The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, an award-winning 2007 young-adult novel by acclaimed Native American novelist Sherman Alexie, has gone the way of Slaughterhouse Five and Catcher in the Rye after parents complained of racy content at a middle school in Queens.
The book was initially placed on a required summer reading list at Public School/Middle School 114 in Rockaway Park, where incoming sixth-graders were asked to write a paper on it, reports the New York Daily News. But Kelly-Ann McMullan-Preiss, a parent who has described the book as being "like Fifty Shades of Grey for kids," thought otherwise. So she took to Facebook, sharing a page from the book that discusses masturbation—"Yep, that's right, I admit I masturbate," the protagonist brags—and writing, "I'm disgusted they picked this book." When fellow parents weighed in with their outrage, McMullan-Preiss resolved to call the school's principal, Stephen P. Grill. The school soon pulled it from the list:
Bowing to pressure from the outraged parents and after inquiries from the Daily News, the principal of Public School/Middle School 114 in Rockaway Park announced Wednesday that “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” was no longer required reading.
According to the Daily News, McMullan-Preiss was planning to put together a petition before the school axed the book.
Alexie's book, at any rate, has been banned from classrooms before in its six years of print. But as so frequently happens when censorship and English class comes head-to-head, the story has sparked a debate about the literary merits of the novel—which has won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award—as compared with passages taken out of context.
"We taught excerpts to our summer school kids, and they loved it," Sarah Sullivan, a teacher in the Bronx, told The Atlantic Wire in an email. "It's a well-written book that addresses themes appropriate to urban minority students." Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, has previously defended the book:
After the book was pulled from an Oregon classroom in 2008, Alexie defended it in the central Oregon newspaper The Bulletin.
“Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it’s masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human,” Alexie told the newspaper. “To pretend that kids aren’t dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial.”
But Fox News referred to it as a "book on masturbation" in its headline, and the parents seem to agree. "It’s about . . . masturbation, which is not appropriate for my child to learn at 11," McMullan-Preiss told the Daily News, despite the fact that most boys begin touching themselves regularly at 7 and more than half have tried to masturbate by the time they begin puberty at about 11 1/2.
The school hung up quickly when reached for comment. But Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Education, told The Atlantic Wire that the department "does not have a required reading list, and selected texts are school-based decisions."