Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian ~ Sherman Alexie
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of those books that I've been meaning to read forever but never seem to get around to. I finally picked it up at the Texas Book Festival because I was anticipating seeing Sherman Alexie speak but then they changed the schedule at the last minute without telling anyone and I ended up on a GIANT line for Lemony Snicket. But it wasn't a huge deal because I'd actually seen Sherman Alexie speak before and I wanted the book anyway.
True Diary is the story of Junior, a Spokane youth living on a reservation in Washington, who decides to leave the reservation school to attend an all-white school twenty miles away. Told in Junior's words and drawings, the reader is immersed into the world of reservation politics, high school, and race relations. Also, the reader will be very confused as to whether Junior should be referred to as Native American or Indian (spoiler alert: he never tells us but mostly refers to himself as Indian).
This book was excellent. Alexie does an amazing job of making us believe everything - Junior's pain and confusion and desire to succeed, and translates all of that perfectly into the voice of an adolescent boy. Junior is a little precocious but not in a child genius way, just in a slightly-beyond-his-peers way. His musings on race are mature and compelling, but not beyond what I would believe of him.
The introduction to life on a reservation was so interesting, and built on what I gleaned in The Round House a couple of months ago (review, of course, to come). I don't know much about the modern state of reservations other than the prevalence of intergenerational PTSD, alcoholism, and casinos and while True Diary didn't really alter that perception, it did flesh it out. Instead of ideas, I got what that looks like and means for its residents - violence, poverty, and a loss of hope.
But don't go thinking that this whole thing is a sob-fest (though there are some REALLY sad parts). It's also just the story of a kid growing up, and all the attendant awkwardness - inconvenient hard-ons, making friends, efforts to say the right thing. Sure it's sad, but it's also funny and scary and hopeful.
One of the draws of True Diary for me was how often it's banned. I think I read somewhere that it's one of the most banned books in the United States and to be honest, I could kind of see why. Don't get me wrong - I don't think that it should be banned (though talking with your kid about it would definitely be advised), but I can understand the mindset. There are some banned books that I read and I'm like "really?!" To Kill a Mockingbird comes to mind, as well as Speak. True Diary is a little different - Junior is extremely explicit about taboo subjects like masturbation and hard-ons and I'm not surprised that there are a lot of parents out there who don't want their precious children exposed to such things. I basically think that's ridiculous - one of the best ways, in my opinion, to deal with the awkwardness and difficulty of period is through literature and characters going through the same stuff. True Diary would be great for a teenage boy who's feeling dirty or unsure of his changing body, or having trouble fitting in, or having any number of issues. In fact, I think that it's a great book for most people at any age, to get some perspective and just enjoy a great, quick story.