Following yet another living, breathing attempt at book banning–this time in Boise, Idaho, where school board members voted to remove Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian–a student-led petition resulted in a major donation from the book’s publisher. Seventeen-year-old Brady Kissel presented a petition with over three hundred signatures to the school board, asking that the National Book Award-winning title not be removed from her school’s outside reading lists. Her petition was ultimately unsuccessful in light of parent complaints that the book contained profanity and a reference to masturbation.
After hearing the news, Sara Baker and Jennifer Lott from the neighboring state of Washington launched a fundraising drive to purchase 350 copies of the book, raising nearly around $3,000 to do so. While this book was a World Book Night title in 2012, it was not a part of this year’s WBN celebration; however, Kissel, Baker, and Lott distributed their purchased copies of the book this year on April 23rd to coincide with WBN.
After learning of the situation and the resulting purchase of its books, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, who published the title, made an additional donation of 350 copies of the book for the group to distribute.
This is not the first time Alexie’s book has been challenged or banned. In fact, according to the ALA, it is currently the second most often challenged book in the US. But this may be one of the first times that individuals have fought censorship by buying the book and giving it away, and certainly one of the rare times that a publisher has given away this much stock of one of its titles in order to fight book banning.
Unfortunately, it was a cost that didn’t have to be fronted. With the incredible tools available through digital publishing, the cost to purchase and give away the ebook for the individuals who fund raised could have been negligible compared to the cost of a print edition (note: unfortunately, the publisher has set the ebook edition price of this title at $9.99, higher than the $8.52 per print copy that the protest organizers spent through Rediscovered Books). And despite the misunderstood belief that publishers are simply swimming in piles of printed books that they can afford to give away, LBYR could have distributed digital editions of the book for nearly nothing, or at the very least lowered the price of the ebook in protest.
With the thriving choke hold that censorship has over public education and libraries, protests of this kind will be too costly to keep up. As it stands, 700 people were given a copy of this brilliant book that critics don’t want them to read, but the distribution and the resulting fight against censorship could reach so much farther through digital.