Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: The Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian

I need to start this review by sending a huge thank you to Bex from An Armchair by the Sea who sent me this book off of my December 2012 Random Acts of Kindness wish list. This is a book that I had been wishing for for quite some time. I adore Native American literature; anything written by or about or featuring characters of Native American descent is my kind of book. If and when I ever get back to graduate school I plan to focus my studies on Native American literature and one of the authors that I intend to focus on is Mr. Sherman Alexie. This is the first of his books that I have read and I'm so glad that I did get the chance to read it, so thank you Bex, for this amazing gift!

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of A Part Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Ellen Forney
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Little Brown Books
Pages: 230
Where I Got It: From Bex at An Armchair By The Sea (thank you!)
Dates I Read It: February 7, 2013
Number of Stars: 4/5
Read For: Pure pleasure

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is a bildungsroman tale that relates the story of Arnold Spirit Junior who is fourteen years old and lives on the Spokane Tribe Reservation in Washington State. Junior has been born with water on his brain and is still suffering the after effects of this unfortunate entry to the world; he's prone to seizures  he has an enlarged head, he had ten extra teeth that had to be painfully pulled all at once, etc. He feels very limited in what he can do with his future. Through a series of events with a White teacher he decides that in order to take control of his own future and to hold on to any hope he may have he needs to go to the "White" school off of the reservation. Junior spends his days trying to acclimate to a White high school that is very different from the school on the "rez".

I was able to read this entire book in one sitting. Yesterday was the first day that I was able to keep my head down for long periods of time with out spinning over or, as Junior would call it, "yucking", so I got a lot of reading done yesterday. I finished up The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and then I sat down to start this book and ended up reading the entire thing and then I got 40 pages into The Hours by Michael Cunningham. The Absolutely True Diary... is a relatively short book at 230 pages, and a lot of those pages are cartoon drawings from Junior's "diary." I enjoyed this story very much. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. The characters are brutally honest and flawed. Junior confesses the downtrodden nature of life on the reservation that includes poverty and severe alcoholism that plagues 98% of the population of the tribe. The book does not read like a straight diary in the "dear diary" sense of the word, but it skips around and hits on the main events of Junior's life in the way that a real diary would. There are several sessions of dialogue between characters which have a frank and impartial feeling to them. The teenagers spoke in ways that real teenagers would. Throughout the progression of the book Junior deals with several instances of death and they all involve alcohol. In the very short book he looses two family members and one family friend. There were instances where I found myself laughing out loud at Junior's sarcastic wit and then two pages later I was mournful of the events taking place and Junior's acute understanding and telling of the event.

The book was banned in quite a few libraries and it was one of ALA's top banned books of 2010, so I knew right away that I was going to love this book! I also saw this promising bit of information on the back cover: "I have no doubt that in a tear or so it'll be winning awards and being banned." -Neil Gaiman. As a librarian who has to deal with book banning drama more often than not, I can see what the charges against the book would be: language, sex, violence, alcoholism, bullying, you know, the usual, the things that teenagers actually want to read about and can actually relate to! This is not a book that I would keep in my middle grades library, but I can see it having a good home in any high school library in the country. It was an enjoyable and easy read, I had it read in about 3 hours. The cartoon work of Ellen Forney adds a bit of comic relief to an otherwise heavy in themes book. Alexie's dry wit also didn't hurt. Despite the somewhat advanced themes of the book, I believe that this is a book with a powerful message about breaking out of a comfort zone and about the dangers of alcohol which is so relevant with the youth of our nation today. This is a book that you won't want to miss no matter if you're fourteen or forty. I can't wait to get my hands on some of Alexie's adult-fiction books!

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