Wednesday, October 23, 2013

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

Summary:  Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation.

Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend.  Determined to receive a good education, Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot.  Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed.  Written with raw emotion by acclaimed writer Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, his first novel for young adults, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one unlucky boy trying to rise above the life everyone expects him to live.  (Summary from book cover and image from

My Review:  I've been hearing about this book for quite a few years now and just haven't gotten around to reading it until now, when it's next up for our book club discussion.  And man am I mad at myself for not reading it sooner!  It's hilarious!  I had some expectation that it would be--everyone I know who's read it say so.  But, I often go into books that come with rave reviews with skepticism.  This one did not fail me.  Alexie's humor is spot on.  He manages to pull off awkward, insecure and immature 14-year-old boy spot on.

All that aside, this book would be what it is without the cartoons.  Junior is an artist--budding and definitely not trained in classical art, but his drawings add depth that you couldn't get any other way.  The art for the story was drawn by Ellen Forney.  Below is an example of just one of his hilarious depictions of the people in his life.

 It feels, at the beginning, that Junior doesn't have a chance in life--so much is against him.  One of the strongest messages in the book is to fight hard for what you desire; Junior does just that.  He manages to survive being an outsider, changing schools, being rejected by his own, losing more people than a teen should have to endure in one year, and many other trials.  Yet, Junior comes out on top.  He has some fantastic inner dialogues and self-analysis.  If only all teenage males were able to understand themselves so clearly.

While some will find this offensive, if you've ever spent time in a poverty-ridden area where hope is limited and humor is all you have, you'll know that what Alexie draws out is fairly accurate.  It's not pretty, but it's real.  It's difficult and violent, but there's beauty there as well.  People are flawed, life isn't fair, and everywhere you look it seems like there's just another barrier you must somehow get past; and yet, if you really want it, you can overcome.

I left this book with a great sense of hope.  For some students, this is the only kind of book that is real, that isn't so foreign from their experience that they can actually relate to it.  And for that, I believe it's a great option for students.  Just know that it isn't for everyone.  It might just be the book for a struggling reader in your classroom.  It's funny, it's emotional, it's poignant.  And just to throw a last plug for the book, I learned a bit more about Native American current culture.

For the sensitive reader:  Definitely swearing, crass humor, and violence, but in a light-hearted way that depicts the story authentically.

Rating: 4 stars

Sum it up: Ever been caught in two worlds?  If so, you'll be able to relate.


JoanneMarie Faust said...

The book challengy/banny types really do not like Mr. Alexie. I think he's awesome. I read this a few years ago and felt the same way you do. I've really got to move The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven up my TBR list!

Susan@ Reading World said...

My book club chose this for our next meeting. I've heard good things about it, but your review really makes me want to read it!

CarrieM said...

Great review! I felt like this book was a great ambassador for teenage boys and a terrific insight into Reservation life. (i.e. there's not actually free money you get for being Native American!)


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