Banned Book Review: The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian

A Note from the Blog Editor
by Catherine H. Armstrong

As we continue our Celebration of Banned Books Week 2012, we bring you the following review of  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.  *This book was originally challenged in Crook County, Oregon when a parent copied several pages from the book and presented them to the school board.  The pages depicted masturbation.  Upon reading the content out of context, the school board immediately took steps to remove the book from the school district’s library shelves.

Upon receiving this decision, the Crook County High School Principal responded by stating the following:

“I’ve been directed by the board to pull the book, and I will comply with their directive, but I respectfully disagree with what they are doing. It’s a slippery slope if you take one or two pages out of context; I mean ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is about two teenagers who are having a relationship. It’s a dangerous precedent”.

For more information about this book and the attempts to challenge and ban it from bookshelves, you can use this link.

*Information cited was obtained from the bannedbooks.world.edu website.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
A Review by Gail Manahan

Okay. So imagine this. You are born with hydrocephalus – water on the brain – and a really HUGE head. At six months old, you survive surgery that vacuums the excess water out of your brain, but leaves you with seizures, one eye that’s near-sighted, one that’s far sighted, and ten extra teeth. Yes, TEN. You grow into a very short, skinny body with a HUGE head, feet, and hands; you stutter and lisp. Are you in for trouble? Yes, you are. It gets worse. You are an Indian. A reservation Indian. On the Spokane Indian reservation. An Indian born into generations of poverty, alcoholism, violence, and despair. As a kid, you belong to the Black Eye of the Month Club because the other kids see you as a “retard” that needs to be put in his place. You have exactly one friend; well, two – one is your dog, Oscar, and the other is Rowdy – a kid born in the same hospital and on the same day as you and who is so angry and mean that everyone else is afraid of him. Thank god for Rowdy. You’d be dead by now if he didn’t protect you and smash up every kid that picks on you. Even so, you spend a lot of time in your bedroom drawing cartoons because it’s safer. Pictures speak a thousand words and you want to be heard.

Thus begins the first person narrative of our protagonist, Arnold Spirit Jr. aka Junior – a moniker so common locally that if you step into a rez bar and holler “Hey, Junior,” fifteen guys would turn around.  Junior is fourteen and beginning his freshman year of high school in his hometown Wellpinit, Washington. His only claim to fame is his belief that he’d be the top draft pick of the Professional Masturbators League, if there were one; he’s ambidextrous.  His older sister, Mary Runs Away, bright and beloved by her family, has been holed up in the basement for the past seven years since she graduated from high school, unable, it seems, to make a move. Junior’s father is a kind, mostly decent alcoholic who dreamed of being a jazz musician. His mother aspired to college and teaching.  He calls her a “human tape recorder” – a voracious reader with an expansive memory. And his grandmother, tolerant and well-loved by the thousands of Indians that she has met in her years of attending powwows across the country, asks forgiveness of the person responsible for her death. But… no one ever leaves the reservation – not for education or another life.

Like all the other reservation Indians, the Spirit’s are poor. There often isn’t enough food in the house and gas for the car. But the worst part about being poor, according to Arnold aka Junior, isn’t the lack of food or gas, the occasional parental neglect, or the Safeway tennis shoes and the Kmart jeans; it’s the lack of hope. Spurred on by his guilt-ridden Anglo geometry teacher who recognizes Arnold’s talents and beseeches him to leave the reservation, Arnold asks to transfer to Reardon, a town off the rez where he’ll be the only Indian in school. Because if he doesn’t go now, he knows he never will.

So begins Arnold’s new life – one foot in the Indian world by night and the other in the white world by day. The rez Indians see him as a traitor to the tribe – an apple – red on the outside, white on the inside. He’s no longer welcome. And how can he make inroads in the all-white school when, after the first day or two, he is pretty much ignored?  Although the deck seems stacked against Arnold Spirit Jr., he has moxie to spare. Surprising things happen. The novel is a roller-coaster ride of angst, grief, hilarity, Anglo-bashing, and a keen take on racism of various forms. If you tend toward the empathic, keep the tissues close by. But be prepared to snort with laughter before you finish drying your eyes.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library.

Book Review and Visiting Author – Brenda Child – “Holding our World Together”

Holding Our World Together:
Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community

A Review by Marie Maher

History books contain many stories of great leaders, but oftentimes the stories about quiet greatness stay behind the scenes.  Holding Our World Together highlights the stories of remarkable Ojibwe women who struggled through trying times to preserve a valuable community; a culture that may very well have been otherwise lost. Unsung Ojibwe leaders, as one example, did the hard labors necessary to produce, process, and distribute wild rice in order to economically maintain a community.  The Ojibwe women handled all of these tasks as an effort to survive, and they were oftentimes the business leaders of a community that did not limit women’s roles.

The unsung leaders of the Ojibwe women maintained traditions and cultural values when patriarchal European settlers did their best to Christian-ize Native American spirituality.  These women were strongholds in preserving their culture’s traditions.  These unsung leaders fought for strong family values and stood up for their children.  When the government insisted (often forcibly) that all children be sent to boarding schools so that they could be culturally assimilated, Ojibwe women knew that wasn’t “right” and did their best to make their voices heard and regain custody of their children.  “It seems it would be much easier to get my daughter out of prison than out of your school,” stated one woman who bravely approached government officials to voice her dissent.

We all know that atrocities were committed against Native Americans as our country was developed.  Brenda Child’s book, however cognizant of these acts, looks well beyond destruction to the courage and perseverance of a nation’s women:  women  strong enough to help the nation survive and thrive.

Using oral tradition and written documents, Child brings the Ojibwe women to life.  More than a well-researched history of Native North Americans, and more than an acknowledgement of Ojibwe women’s accomplishments, this book is a tribute to the courage, resiliency and leadership of the Ojibwe women.  What a wonderful tribute Child has written!

As part of the Rochester Public Library Visiting Author Series, Brenda Child will be joining us on Sunday, September 9th, at 2:00 PM in the Library Auditorium.  Admission is free and open to the public.

Book Review – The House at Sea’s End

The House at Sea’s End
A Review by Kathy Pestotnik

There is nothing better than a good book-friend, and I’m grateful to mine for steering me to The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths.

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, university professor and single mom, and she’d be the first to admit that she has no idea which identity is primary. She’s new at the mom game and not entirely convinced that 4 month old Kate even likes her. Ruth is called in to direct a dig on a Norfolk beach when a team studying beach erosion finds human bones wedged in a cleft in a cliff. These are no random bones, but six complete skeletons (well nearly complete…one is missing a finger) with wrists still bound behind them, one still clutching a rosary. When Ruth discovers bullet holes in several of the skulls, the investigation widens to include DCI Harry Nelson, the very-married father of Ruth’s daughter. What follows is a World War II mystery that stirs up the passion and guilt of the living as well as the murky secrets of the past.

I couldn’t put this one down until I finished. Griffiths is a master of using word snapshots and snippets of dialog to create characters so vivid I swear I could point them out on the street. Warning: This is not the first Ruth Galloway mystery, though after a brief, enigmatic beginning, I thought it could easily stand on its own. But for those of you who prefer starting at the beginning, the first title is The Crossing Places, and the second is The Janus Stone. I will absolutely read them, but slo-oo-owly, so I won’t have so long to wait for number four.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library.  For more information about this book or the author, you can visit the author’s website by following this link.

Book Review – The Last Time I Was Me

The Last Time I was Me
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

What can you say about a woman with an anger problem? An anger problem brought on by the deaths of her husband and unborn child and, subsequently, by her beloved mother? Follow that anger problem with a cheating live-in boyfriend (upon whom she extracts sweet revenge) and you have a seriously unhinged woman. Take that seriously unhinged woman and put her in an anger-management course (court directed, no less), throw in some quirky characters and an anger-management counselor with her own obvious anger issues, and you have a great story. But why stop there? While you’re at, throw in a dead body, a germ-phobic Bed and Breakfast owner, an opera-singing, pancake-flipping diner owner, and NOW you have a great read!

There was just so much going on in this book that it’s hard to even explain what it was all about. Suffice it to say that Cathy Lamb has taken a tragic character that most authors would leave tragic, and made her into someone you wish you knew. Someone who lacks that filter we all have that warns us that, “Hey – maybe you shouldn’t say that, even if it is true!” A character whose honesty and plain talk make her not just enjoyable, but downright lovable.

To say that I loved this book is a complete understatement.  I laughed and I cried, and sometimes I laughed while I cried.  As I turned the last pages, I was sorry to see the story end; and, in the end, I simply couldn’t stop thinking about the characters.    What happened next?  What will tomorrow bring?  I simply wanted more.  It’s been a while since I’ve read this book, and I still want more.

The Last Time I was Me is available at the Rochester Public Library.  For more information about this book, or other great reads by Cathy Lamb, visit the author’s website at www.cathylamb.net.

Book Review – It Worked for Me (In Life and Leadership)

It Worked for Me (In Life and Leadership)
A Review by Helen McIver

Since retiring, Colin Powell has made another career as a professional speaker.  In his most recent book, It worked for Me,  Powell breaks the principles of life and leadership into seven parts, most of which were taken from his leadership presentations over the years. He collects stories (that happened to him or his friends) and uses them to illustrate his principles and ideas, which many people would benefit from reading and learning!

The first chapter concerns his 13 rules, which were previously published in Parade magazine over 20 years ago.  They were actually an “ad-on” column, that came from snippets of paper that he had shoved under the glass of his desktop.  I can remember reading that article and wrote most of them out.  Among those thirteen are:

  • Get mad, then get over it.
  • Share credit.
  • It ain’t as bad as you think (though I now prefer to think of his line “Fast Eddie, let’s play some pool.” )
  • Have a vision.
  • Be Demanding.
  • Remain Calm, Be Kind.

The remaining chapters focus on knowing who you are, taking care of others, the importance of mentoring, and how to be a great manager/leader.  The last chapter is saved for reflections.

It is worth remembering that Powell was the first black army officer to have a four-star troop command.  He served in the Army from age 17 to 56.  In those years, he served under four presidential administrations and has received numerous awards. His Jamaican immigrant parents instilled the value of hard work, and he took advice from Lincoln: “I can replace a brigadier general in five minutes, but it is not easy to replace 100 horses.”

Throughout his career, Powell had some exceptional mentors: Capt. Tom Miller, Maj.  Gen. Charles Gettys, Lt.  Gen. Hark Emerson, Capt. William Lovisell, and Col. Frank Henry. His writing feels more like a chat between friends than name-dropping. I am glad he was a restless soul and went walkabout often (getting to know people, staff, intel on the ground, not necessarily what was on paper.).

I hope more people read this book when they look to vote in the coming election for the Leader of the USA.  I find it hard to believe how many of the book reviews are already political and even racist.  Although the content is not entirely new, Powell’s book is a thoughtful, well-written and an interesting portrayal of an honest man in difficult times. It includes interesting anecdotes, easy humor, and engaging prose coupled with the resilience he has displayed throughout his life.

I have always had a great deal of respect for Colin Powell and valued the face that he provided to American foreign policy, as well as the common sense that he presented throughout his career. I trusted him, even on the WMD question, and often felt that if the intel was that bad, we needed to have much better security forces and intel operations. His job was to present the information that the CIA and President certified to the UN to determine a world response.

Powell is a Republican who endorsed Obama in 2008, but only after careful consideration.  He has noted that many of the changes Obama wanted to make have been stopped by Congress. He is also not endorsing anyone at present, still assessing both candidates.

This book will make an excellent graduation present and a wonderful fathers day gift. Don’t hesitate to buy it. His autobiography An American Journey is also worth reading, as is a biography by Karen de Young  entitled Soldier: Life of Colin Powell.

Great quotes to consider:

“A life is about its events – it is about challenges met and overcome. It’s all about people.”

“I try to be optimistic, but I try not to be stupid.”

“I set high not not impossible standards. Mine are achievable with maximum effort.”

“Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you ever know.”

“The US is the necessary nation. Despite our own problems…the world continues to look at us to solve or help with problems and crises….”

“We have to give every kid in America the access to public education that I received. We need to place public education at the top of our priorities and at the center of our national life.”

“If you take the pay, earn it. Don’t disappoint yourself.”

“Do your best- we’ll accept your best, but nothing less.” (Powell’s parents to him when he was not particularly good in sports or school).

Literary February

February is:

Library Lover’s Month
23 February – Printed Book Day

2, 3 FRIENDS Winterfest BookSale
13 Rochester Reads Title Kick Off!

14 February – Valentines Day
20th February – President’s Day (Library closed)

There are books I go to when I don’t want any more of the place I’m somehow stuck in and I long for a lighter and brighter world….They make me feel I’ve just had a drink of a particularly sparkling Champagne. Mary Gordon

January is

January is:
National Braille Literacy Month
2nd Week is Letter Writing Week

January 1 and 2: Library Closed
January 4th: History Hullabaloo
January 8th: Author Visit – Paula McLain
January 14th: History Hullabaloo
January 14th: Wit, Wisdom and Wine
January 16th: Library Closed (Martin Luther King Day)
January 18th: Winnie the Pooh Day – Happy Birthday A.A. Milne