February 20, 2012

Book Review of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Classification: YA Fiction, Contemporary
Source: Borrowed from the library

Overall Grade:
I thought...
An entertaining and unflinchingly honest book.

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Summary (from Goodreads): 
In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

My Thoughts:

From the description of this book and the notoriety of the author, one expects The Absolutely True Diary to be heavy--weighed down by societal issues, controversial topics, and generally dense material.

But it's not. Diary is intensely readable. Once you fall into Junior's head, it seems almost effortless to read this book.

But Alexie is so deceiving. He talks about zits and pretty white girls and basketball woes one minute, then throws in a racial slur or two, an unexpected and tragic death, and general heartbreak another minute. But still, the narrative does not slow. Still Junior keeps his composure. Still the book is readable and enjoyable at that.

The characters in Diary seemed doomed to live their lives according to their circumstances: those born poor and Indian will die poor and Indian. Those born rich and white will die rich and white. Those born ignorant will die ignorant.

And just when it seems like one of them managed to escape, (Junior attending Reardan rather than the Rez school, his sister Mary following her true love to Montana), they fall right back into their innate conditions again.

The complications that arise when these characters try to break free from their social circumstances show that Diary is not simply an issue novel, because no issues are solved. The closest that the novel comes to a resolution is with Junior and Rowdy's relationship, but even this is not cut-and-dry.

At some points, the honesty of Diary is exhausting. It's difficult to know what to do when 13 year old Junior says with a straight face:

"It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor," (13). 
"I don't know if hope is white. But I do know that hope for me is like some kind of mythical creature," (51). 
"'Just remember this,' my father said. 'Those white people aren't better than you.' But he was so wrong. And he knew he was wrong. He was the Indian father of a loser Indian son living in a world built for winners," (55). 
"There are all kinds of addicts, I guess. We all have pain. And we all look for ways to make that pain go away," (107) 
"I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other. It was like being Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job. And it didn't pay very well," (118).
With such constant honesty, it's difficult to take a consistent message from Diary, to know what to glean from the text.

However, perhaps Diary's greatest success is the authenticity of Junior. The reader can never second-guess Junior's narrative, because he doesn't leave anything out. He is a true protagonist and through him, Alexie delivers a true portrait of a modern Native American existence that is as heartbreaking as it is readable.


Overall Grade:
I thought...
An entertaining and unflinchingly honest book.

Add to Goodreads | Order from Amazon  

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