Tuesday, August 25, 2015

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

After being strong and resisting the urge, I found myself relapsing. I went thrifting and ended up buying about 10 new books. Who knows if when or how I'll ever read them, but during my bender I picked up a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I've been an Alexie fan for years (and not just because he shares a name with my best friend).  I went through a big Native lit phase in college and it still resurfaces in odd ways. When I found a copy of this critically acclaimed, and frequently banned, book for a mere $1 I knew it needed to come home with me.

From the Publisher
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 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.

I work late at the library on Wednesdays, till midnight. Sometimes when I get off I just can't sleep. Last Wednesday was one of those. I had started reading Diary, and wanted to read a few more chapters. If I'd known the night would end with my crying at 3am and finishing the book I might have read something else.

Diary follows Junior's Freshman year of HS where he transfers to the local white high school. That's really it, but what makes this book amazing is how it manages to stay true to what it's like to grow up without sugar-coating, talking down or patronizing the reader. Junior is a brutally honest narrator. His father is an alcoholic, his mother is smart but trapped on the rez, his sister was a promising student until suddenly she doesn't want to leave her basement bedroom any longer. Junior is violently picked on and bullied by not only his peers, but even some adults on the rez. But despite all this he is hilarious, and honest, and wonderful.

The second chapter has Junior talking about what the worst part of poverty is. He says it's not the hunger, right there you have a starkly honest book where a kid is going hungry. This 14 year old narrator is saying, hey, I go to bed hungry some days. It's visceral. But he goes on, the worst part was when his best friend, and dog, Oscar got sick. Of course his parents didn't have enough to take the dog to the vet. But his father has a gun. He takes Oscar out back, shoots him and Alexie ends the second chapter, page 14, with the line "A bullet only costs about two cents, and anybody can afford that." This book keeps it fucking real, it is brutally and painfully honest. That and the sex stuff is probably why it keeps getting banned. Some kids grow up quick, and not every child has the luxury of an insulated childhood. Isn't it nice to have a protagonist who won't pull punches with you either? Who won't lie? Who is honest and knows what you've been going through?

Beyond scenes like this are just brutal, Alexie even manages to fit in some great Native politics. Early in the book Junior's teacher, Mr. P., comes to him and convinces him to go to a better high school. Now every kid knows that there are the "good" schools in the area and the "bad" schools. Each area is a bit different, but it's usually the result of socioeconomic differences that most kill the Indian to save the child.'" If you know anything about Native history, that's a big clue right there to the way the US Gov't has dealt with Indians for the past 200 years. Both Boarding Schools and how the BIA has worked with tribes for the past 50 years. It's wonderful to see how the book can work on so many levels, and, I think, makes for a great children's book when kids can read it, and adults can read it, and you can have those meanings embedded for the different readers.
kids understand, if vaguely. But Alex has Mr. P. tell Junior that "'When I first started teaching here, that's what we did to the rowdy ones, you know? We beat them. That's how we were taught to teach you. We were supposed to

I can't recommend this book highly enough, and give it 5 out of 5 banned books.

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