Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie - review

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian
Sherman Alexie
2009 Little/Brown

Cover - Best Cover Ever....'nuff said

I actually read a review of this book long, long ago.  I can't believe it took me three years (or more) to get this novel, but here we are, 2013 and I finally read it.  And it's good.  It's better than good, it's a hell of a read.

It's young adult - and as a mom, I totally would have let my kids read it, no matter the age.  But if you are a parent with issues about masturbation, or sex and violence in novels (first of all, there is sex and violence all over, even on prime time...) then be aware that there are many mentions of punching and fighting, alcoholism (not glorified at all, rather treated very honestly) and a few mentions of masturbation - mentions; no how to info. It's written in first person, with accompanying cartoons which totally add to the story, and is done in an almost memoir style.

The main character - Arnold Spirit, aka Junior - lives on a reservation and goes to the rez school, which is staffed with teachers who are overwhelmed or underwhelmed.  Take your pick.  So one day he suddenly gets that he needs to leave - and to leave he has to begin by getting an education off the reservation.  It takes an accidental act of violence against his teacher to drive this point home to him. 

Though he is very nervous about this, he insists and his parent agree to enroll him in nearby farm town high school, the high school that is 99 percent full of white students.  

On the reservation he has been dealing with neighbors and family who have a high rate of alcoholism, poverty, dysfunction, etc - and yet every one knows each other.  Starting out life with physical defects - born with hydrocephalism, and suffered from seizures most of his life, too many teeth, and poor eyesight - he's used to being the kid that's picked on.  In fact, he only has one friend, the most violent kid on the rez.  Call this preparation for dealing with his new school.

At his new school he has to deal with racism and being ignored and stared at concurrently.  He doesn't quite fit in with the new school, and now he's a 'traitor' on the rez, for leaving - even though he still lives on the reservation.

There's way more to the story - and it's all interesting.  The author, using Junior's voice, doesn't shy away from pointing out the racism, violence and plain stupidity of humans.  He does so, though, without exaggerating; keeping things brutally honest in a practical way.  The insights that his young character comes to are enlightening.  Both the author and his character use humor  to deal with situations.

I hope that books like these are being put on reading lists in high schools all over the place, one would hope that young people all over would take some important information away from a reading experience with this novel.  I'm definitely passing this novel on to my nieces.

Not only does he write good books - he's directed and written a movie, The Business of Fancy Dancing.  Take a peek at this trailer...

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