The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian- Sherman Alexie
When I was in college, I read Alexie's collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I loved his work then, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to pick up this book. It was only sort of on my radar, but when I found myself sitting in my school's library waiting for students to finish reading tests, I was drawn to it on the shelf and thought I would read a little bit. Well, a little bit turned into the entire novel in short order. (Note to the FCC- since I know this is your favorite blog to read... book was checked out from my school's library)
Arnold "Junior" Spirit is a Spokane Indian living on the rez in the Northeastern United States. He is poor; his friends are poor; the entire reservation is poor and without much hope. Junior is excited to start high school, despite the beatings he is sure to receive. He's been a town punching bag since birth because of his plethora of physical defects and personality quirks. He would likely be in much worse shape if his best friend Rowdy wasn't always looking for a fight and willing to stick up for him. When Junior receives his math book in his first class and finds that it's the same book his mother used thirty plus years prior, he loses all patience and decides that he must get off the rez and go to the white school in the farm town 22 miles away. This decision leads to a backlash from his tribe and he soon fits in nowhere. Throughout the novel Junior's life gets better in some areas, but completely falls apart in others. His sense of humor and wit however, never falter.
I really loved this book. The voice was spectacular, probably due in part to the semi-autobiographical nature of the writing, but Alexie really nails it. Junior's humor and observations cut right to the bone. Alexie never shies away from the difficult and unsavory aspects of life as a teenage boy, or life as Native American. Though it was lightly uncomfortable at times for me, a white woman, to read, I could still relate and sympathize with Junior's pain and coming from a small town myself, his deep desire to leave and make his mark on the world.
Though this book is technically YA fiction, it is worth everyone reading. The pain of being a teenager is something that no one is impervious to. Though, I particularly think this book would be fantastic for reluctant readers, particularly boys. I plan to have my literacy class of struggling juniors, all boys, read this. The pacing is well done, and while the themes and issues have a remarkable depth, the language is easy to read. I also loved the cartoons throughout. They were hilarious and totally believable. I dislike books where pictures just seem to be added in but don't actually add anything to the story. These drawings moved the plot just as much as words, sometimes more so. Overall, a triumph of the teenage years by Alexie. I'm sure that this will be a favorite of many.
You can read my other reviews HERE.