Saturday, October 31, 2015

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

More than ten years ago I heard Sherman Alexie speak at The New Yorker Festival. He was so engaging and entertaining that I bought his book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, even though I normally hate short stories. I finally read it two years ago and it fulfilled its promise. I immediately bought his acclaimed YA novel.

Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation with his parents. He draws cartoons and plays basketball with his best friend, Rowdy, who protects him from being beaten up (Junior was born with a few medical problems that have led to him looking a little funny.) Then a teacher who taught his older sister, Mary, tells him something important: he is too smart for this reservation school. He decides to go to the local white school. He can't get there and occasionally has to walk the 20 miles home, no one there wants him to come, and no one on the reservation wants him to go (not that they like him, but to them it's a betrayal.) But Junior wants to go to college. He sees his sister, Mary, sinking into a depression and not able to do anything useful with her promising mind.

Naturally a lot of fitting-in issues come up, and Junior learns some interesting, not-so-usual lessons including that the white kids might not have the same problems but they have different problems, and that you can't always tell a bully by how he looks. He learns lessons about loyalty, about love, about terrible loss (there's a heartbreaking passage where he realizes none of his white classmates have been to a funeral aside from a grandparent, and he's been to more than 20, which is average for kids his age on the reservation.) This book is told with brutal honesty, Junior's voice is 100% dead-on a teenager, and it's a fascinating look into a society that is so similar, yet with vital differences, living right alongside a white community. I think if I'd read this book as a teenager, it would have made me sob. It's touching, personal, and true. Every teen should read this book.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book at the independent bookstore on Jekyll Island, Georgia.


Stacie said...

I have heard of this book, but never looked into what it was about. It sounds really good and great for discussion with your kids about bullying and inclusion. We live near a reservation and even though the kids don't go to school with us we compete with them in athletics. I have heard horrible stories of some of their home lives and situations that come up in school. I think this would open a lot of teens eyes as to life from another perspective.

Carin Siegfried said...

It covers all of that including several basketball games between the two schools, and how that affects Junior, having to play against his friends. It would be a perfect book for covering all the topics you mentioned, Stacie!