So the title of this book is a mouthful, but it’s a great hint to what the book holds in store for the reader. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the first teen novel by Sherman Alexie–a witty Native-American writer who isn’t afraid to shock and appall his readers. And the protagonist is a mouthy one.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0316013692&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifrIt’s the story of Junior, more formally known as Arnold Spirit. He is a teenage Spokane Indian living on a reservation in Washington. Arnold tells the story of his first year of high school in his own unique (and outrageously humorous) voice. When Arnold opens his geometry book on the first day of class, he discovers that he has been issued the same book that his mother was issued thirty years before. He is so incensed at this injustice that he hurls the book across the room–and hits his teacher in the face. His teacher, rather than being angry with him, recognizes that Junior wants to learn more and have better opportunities at a life outside the rez than his school or community can offer. So he transfers out to a white (and racist) school twenty-two miles away in order to have access to their resources.
Alexie’s purpose in writing goes deeper than providing an amusing story. Upon reading the novel, I realized that I really hadn’t read or thought much about the treatment of Native Americans in our modern society. While Junior is a funny character who loves to draw hilarious cartoons and play basketball, he’s also a kid who has to deal with a lot of things that are entirely too serious for his maturity level. He and his family live in extreme poverty, to the point that he sometimes has to hitch-hike to and from school (22 miles away, remember?) because they cannot afford gas, or go a day without food. Almost every adult on the reservation is an alcoholic. The school is abysmally under-funded and therefore subpar. There are severe health problems in his community, due to alcoholism and lack of nutritional food. Even smart and driven people, such as Junior’s sister Mary, give in to mediocrity after high school because of the sheer weight of everything that’s fighting against their chances for improvement.
It sounds like a bummer of a book, but it’s not. Junior overcomes adversity at every turn: he makes new friends at his new school, has his first girlfriend, makes the basketball team, and even wins back the friend that loathed him for leaving the reservation. His cartoons (printed in the book) are farcical. They poke fun at life even as they portray all of the atrocious things wrong with his living conditions. But despite its semi-happy ending, the reader cannot ignore the serious message in the book. There is something wrong with the way America’s native people are being treated in this country. Rather than a heritage honored, they are still hidden away in tiny corners of the country, their culture and traditions suppressed or gone.
There’s really not a single thing I didn’t like about this novel. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that even though I finished it two days ago, I today found myself wanting to read more about Junior. He’s a fantastic character and I would have liked to spend more time with him. Before the book goes back to the library, I’m going to go through and read all of his cartoons one more time 🙂 Honestly, I think everyone should read it. It’s a novel adults can enjoy too, and its themes are things about which adults should be informed and concerned.