This is the book that got banned. Possibly more than once, but certainly last year, which caused some Idaho teenagers to arrange for the book to be handed out for free to the 350 students who had protested against the ban by the local school board. This was on World Book Night, and you probably heard about it in the media. I did, but forgot what the book was, so am glad that Andersen have decided to re-issue the book. Because you’ll want to read this one.
Sherman Alexie lived a slightly similar life to that of his main character, Arnold Spirit. Close enough that it’s a sort of autobiography, but not completely.
Arnold has a pretty rotten time of it, and I’m guessing that while Sherman sounds fine in his afterword, his teenage years were no picnic either. He – they – have grown up on a reservation, and at the age of 14 Arnold decided to go to the white school in town, rather than the school on the reservation.
It’s a brave decision, and his life was just as hard as you’d expect, because once you’ve made the change, you don’t automatically belong in either place. He’s intelligent, which is good. He’s foolhardy and brave, which is just as well.
The story proves that people can change, though. His white classmates start off prejudiced, and slowly change. Some of them, some of the time. But while Arnold meets kindness, eventually, and success both in the classroom and on the sportsfield – much to his surprise – his private life is very, very hard. Lack of money and too much drink is the least of his troubles. He doesn’t mince words, and it’s possible to see why some people wanted the book banned.
Not wanting to spoil it for anyone, I won’t go into detail. But it’s tough. And after everything, he still seems to emerge smiling.
This book gives you hope. I just wish there will be a reason to feel hopeful.