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Friday, April 16, 2010

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

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown and Co.
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (288 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: Best Book
Reviewer: Dandelion

In his nationally acclaimed, semi-autobiographical YA debut, author Sherman Alexie tells the heartbreaking, hilarious, and beautifully written story of a young Native American teen as he attempts to break free from the life he was destined to live.

I had seen this book recommended on a number of “Must Read” lists of Young Adult fiction – but I’ll be honest, the rather awkward title put me off. Do not make this same mistake! The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a brilliant, heart-breaking, funny, powerful story that will remain with you long after you finish the final page.

Loved it.

Absolutely loved it.

Arnold “Junior” Spirit is a self-admittedly dirt-poor teen living on a Spokane Indian Reservation. He’s the awkward, cross-eyed, friendless son to drunken but well-meaning parents, and he’s also too smart to stay on the “rez” (that’s what a teacher tells him one day, anyway). Oh, and he’s also a cartoonist, which means that hilarious sketches appear throughout the book. After sitting in class one day realizing that life on the rez means a dead-end life, Junior takes the very daring (or very stupid) step of choosing to attend the all-white school twenty-two miles away and becomes one of the first and only Indians to leave.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Junior’s freshman year as the only Indian at Reardan High School (well, besides the mascot). He’s picked on, ignored, beat up – and then, miracle of miracles, accepted, not only by fellow nerd Gordy, but by the beautiful. blonde Penelope and even the jocks. Amid this adjustment, though, Junior has to deal with the fact that his best friend on the rez, Rowdy, is furious (and heart-broken) at being deserted. The rest of the Indians aren’t any more forgiving. They generally drink and fight and turn their backs on Junior, accusing him of forsaking his heritage.

The brilliance of this book is Junior’s voice. It is poignantly honest, funny, offensive at times, smart and smart-assed, and it doesn’t shy away from telling the horrible truths about what life is like on an Indian reservation – and what happens when you’re the single minority in a brand new school full of white faces. As he says in the opening pages, "It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it…” But of course there is something he can do – and he does it, though it’s harder than he ever dreamed it would be.

You must read this book. You’ll alternate between tears and laughter, between asking “Is that what it’s really like?” and “Have I ever acted like that?” One warning, however: there are a lot of sexual references and vulgarity, so even though it’s tagged as appropriate for grades 7-10, I’d recommend this book for older readers rather than middle schoolers.

Appealing to male and female readers alike, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a brilliant piece of YA fiction that deserves every accolade it’s received. I give it my highest recommendation!

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