New chapter in Meridian book battle

A local store and libraries are doing brisk business with 'Part-Time Indian,' and over 300 copies are headed the district's way.

broberts@idahostatesman.comApril 16, 2014 

Two Washington state women, devotees of Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," were disappointed when the Meridian School District pulled the book from its high school supplemental reading list April 1.

"I wanted to buy a copy for somebody," said Sara Baker, 27, a University of Washington sociology major. "I wanted to share the book."

So she and Jennifer Lott, 29, friends since high school in Spokane, decided to raise money and buy copies for Meridian students.

Their pitch on GoFundMe.com, a fundraising site for personal causes, has netted a strong response: $2,960 since it went live last Friday. The women are hoping to raise $3,000 by Friday, enough to buy 350 copies of Alexie's book - equivalent to the number of students, and a few faculty, who signed a petition at Mountain View High School urging school trustees to keep the book on the supplemental list.

"We've gotten donations from many people in Idaho," Baker said.

The Meridian School Board voted 2-1 earlier this month to keep the book off the reading list after some parents complained that Alexie's novel discusses masturbation and contains profanity. Some also called it an anti-Christian book.

A supplemental reading list includes books that teachers may use as part of the curriculum. Trustees temporarily pulled the title while district officials look for a replacement.

The uproar has boosted local demand for the book.

Rediscovered Books in Downtown Boise ordered 25 copies, and those were gone in a couple of days, said Erin Nelson, events coordinator. The store now has 15 copies in stock.

"I haven't had a single customer tell me this book deserved to be banned," Nelson said.

Local libraries have 30 copies and had 61 people on waiting lists Tuesday. If the demand keeps up, libraries might buy additional copies, said Kevin Booe, Boise Public Library director.

"It is a big deal," Booe said. "Most authors say the best thing that can happen to them is if somebody bans (their) books."

Each high school library in the Meridian School District has about four copies, including one or two not currently checked out, spokesman Eric Exline said.

Baker and Lott asked a Centennial High English teacher to help distribute the books. Stacy Lacy spoke in support of the book at a public hearing April 1, saying it has helped at-risk students with their reading.

The books will be sent to Centennial High School, Baker and Lott said. But Exline said they will not be distributed at the high school or on Meridian School District property. The exact means of distributing the books has not been determined.

Brady Kissel, the 17-year-old Mountain View student who presented the petition to trustees, said she will help.

"I want to be an English teacher," she told the Statesman. "I can't imagine a world where books are denied to students."

"Part-Time Indian" is about a Native American teen growing up on a reservation who decides to attend an all-white high school in a nearby city. He discusses life on the reservation, what it means to be poor and how hope is a rare commodity on reservations.

Baker and Lott say the book appeals to teens. "It brought me to tears in parts," Baker said. "It's so motivating to see the character of Junior trying to break the cycle of poverty."

The profanity and other sensitive parts of the book are important in the context of the story, they say. "I think that a lot of the issues presented in the book are things teens are already thinking about and teens are already dealing with," Lott said.

Alexie has declined interview requests from the Idaho Statesman.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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