Saturday, March 31, 2012

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

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 230
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Summary: (from 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.

When this book came out, I had absolutely no interest in it. I was still in college, so I was way pickier when it came to books. That meant that whenever I could sneak a book in somewhere, it would be a continuation of a series or a stand alone I really wanted to read. Now that I have more time for recreational reading, I’ve broadened my scope. And that brought me to Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel. It’s on all sorts of lists and won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. When I found out the book club at the library was doing it, I finally picked it up for fear of spoilers.
Junior is your average fourteen-year-old boy. That is, if you’re average fourteen-year-old boy had a giant head, an overabundance of extra teeth, and a disproportionate body. His unfortunate physical appearance makes him the punching bag of the Reservation where he and his family live. Unhappy with what his future is starting to look like, he does something that no one he knows has done before: he decides to go to school off the Reservation. Junior’s entire life changes--for the better and worse.
This book had its amusing moments, but for the most part, I would call it depressing. I knew that it was going to be sad because a co-worker told me of her experience crying to the audiobook in her car, but I think the cover is a bit misleading. With the cartoon-ish writing, it looks like a lighter book.
In my opinion, Junior was a likable character. The teenagers in the book group I worked with considered him a loser and dismissed him entirely. Normally I might have been with them, but Junior transcended his status. He was greatly unhappy with his status as a punching bag, so he did something to change it. In the immortal words of Peyton Sawyer from the WB-turned-CW show One Tree Hill (please note my sarcasm on the “immortal words” part, the quote itself is straight to the point and useful in more cases than I’d expect), “If you don’t like the person you’ve become, then DO something about it.” Characters who help themselves are a lot more likable than ones that merely complain to others. There were a lot of negative things in Junior’s life that were out of his control (i.e., his parents’ lack of opportunity and subsequent alcoholism) but things he could control he attempted to make better.
While it includes a bunch of heavy material (for example, a lot of death, alcoholism, blatant racism), it was a pretty quick read. I thought the cartoons were a nice touch. Some were darkly funny, some were explanatory, and many were depressing. My favorite was the diagram Junior created of who his parents could have been if given the opportunities everyone should have.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was a great quick read and a very different story than anything else in young adult fiction. The protagonist is on the younger YA side, but the content is arguably for older readers. I’m definitely glad to have checked it out.

Rating: 4.5 - very good.

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