I hereby nominate, consider, and elect Idaho student Brady Kissel as the Constitutional Hero of the Week.
Brady is a junior at Mountain View High School in Meridian, Idaho. Meridian, sadly, made recent headlines for celebrating Banned Books Week a full five months early by voting to ban Sherman Alexie’s coming-of-age book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” from the high school curriculum.
Alexie’s novel centers on a 14-year-old Native American student who leaves his reservation to become a student at an all-white high school “where the only other Indian is the school mascot.”
“Diary” grapples with sex, race, and class — and is by any measure wildly successful. The book was released to rave reviews, bestseller status, and a National Book Award. And like so many other great pieces of literature, it garnered one other hallmark of notoriety: a choice spot on the American Library Association’s top ten list of banned books in 2013. It enjoys this status alongside classics like “Of Mice and Men” and “The Color Purple,” modern hits including “Harry Potter” and “Friday Night Lights,” and books like “In Our Mothers’ House” that dare to tell nonjudgmental stories about LGBT families. The Meridian School Board jumped on this very stupid censorship train on April 1. (Yes, they’re the only ones who didn’t realize they’re the punchline of a joke.)
Enter stage right: our intrepid hero Brady Kissel. Brady stepped up to the podium to argue against censorship, hand raised like Lady Liberty herself to brandish a petition signed by 350 students opposed to banning the “Diary.”(I can only assume she wore a glittering cape displaying the text of the First Amendment, but oddly the papers omit this detail.) She was right, but school boards aren’t exactly known as bastions of civil liberties. The members voted to ban the “Diary.”
Perhaps these school board members haven’t heard about the Streisand Effect. You know what happens when you tell teenagers they can’t do something? Yeah, that happened. The “Diary” ban backfired in a big way. The “Idaho Statesman” reported this month that right after the vote, local bookstores were sold out of the book, and the public library had a waiting list 61-people deep and “might buy additional copies” if demand keeps up. Fans of the book fundraised to buy a copy of the “Diary” for each of the students who signed Brady’s petition. And our hero Brady? She joined forces with a local book store to hand out those donated books in one of Meridian’s public parks last week for World Book Night.
So we’ve got a prudish school board, an enthusiastic young citizen organizer, a literary event in a public park, and hundreds of high schoolers really psyched about reading a once-required book. Sounds like a heartwarming American coming-of-age tale itself. But here’s where the story gets weird.
Brady got almost all the way through distributing the stack of 350 donated copies of the “Diary” — in a public park — before the fuzz showed up. The cops were summoned by a “concerned” citizen who clearly hadn’t reviewed a copy of the Constitution lately. Fortunately, the police realized once they arrived that there wasn’t exactly a crime in progress. No report on whether the officers were seen flipping through Alexie’s page-turner while they patrolled the ever-dangerous book distribution beat. But no doubt thanks to the vigilance of law enforcement, Brady handed out all 350 copies with nary a drop of blood shed.
And Brady isn’t done. The publishers of the “Diary” caught wind of her inspiring campaign and pledged an additional 350 copies earmarked for Meridian. Now that the school board has blessed “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” with the kiss of infamy, the book is going like hotcakes.
So I have a modest proposal. Ban the Constitution in all Idaho schools and workplaces. And maybe then, just maybe, the school board members and concerned citizens of Meridian will actually read it. It sounds like Brady Kissel already has.