(Summary via Goodreads.com)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.
The reason why I even found this novel in my hand was because it is a required reading for my first summer TESOL course through the University of Cincinnati. I have heard of The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian before, but it never registered with me to be something I would pick up “next” to read. I am very glad that I did, and very eager for my class to begin, because if this is the type of literature that my professor chooses, then I am in for a great 8 weeks.
What I really liked about this novel:
- A strong, relatable voice from the narrator, Junior
“I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That’s right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent.”
- The mood and tone of the novel was present, yet not preachy
“Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.
You can do it.”
- Alexie created characters that allowed the reader to connect with them, even if on a “I hate that guy” feeling
“My grandmother’s greatest gift was tolerance. Now, in the old days, Indians used to be forgiving of any kind of eccentricity. In fact, weird people were often celebrated. Epileptics were often shamans because people just assumed that God gave seizure-visions to the lucky ones. Gay people were seen as magical too. I mean, like in many cultures, men were viewed as warriors and women were viewed as caregivers. But gay people, being both male and female, were seen as both warriors and caregivers. Gay people could do anything. They were like Swiss Army knives! My grandmother had no use for all the gay bashing and homophobia in the world, especially among other Indians. “Jeez,” she said, Who cares if a man wants to marry another man? All I want to know is who’s going to pick up all the dirty socks?”
- The conflicts that Junior faces are real; there was never a point where I felt that Alexie was “piling on” or becoming overly sentimental or dramatic. This is something that easily could have happened during the death of Junior’s grandmother or his father’s best friend, Eugene, or the overall state of poverty, discrimination, and abuse that exists on the reservation.
“When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing.
And so, laughing and crying, we said good-bye to my grandmother. And when we said goodbye to one grandmother, we said good-bye to all of them.
Each funeral was a funeral for all of us.
We lived and died together.
All of us laughed when they lowered my grandmother into the ground.
And all of us laughed when they covered her with dirt.
And all of us laughed as we walked and drove and rode our way back to our lonely, lonely houses.”