Book Review : The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
By Sherman Alexie
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. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian falls into the category of books that I call “books that are written for a young adult audience, but will be enjoyed by adults more than kids”.
The author’s experiences growing up are vastly different than my own, and that is what I like about his novel. I felt like I gained some insight into what it meant to grow up on the rez; the utter hopelessness and grief. One of the most telling moments is when Arnold explains that he has been to over 40 funerals in his life while his white classmates have maybe been to one of an aging relative who had died. The deaths of the Indians were all related to alcohol and very tragic.
This scene is at Grandma Spirit’s funeral:
And that set us all off.
We kept laughing.
It was the most glorious noise I’d ever heard.
And I realized that, sure, Indians were drunk and sad and displaced and crazy and mean, but dang, we knew how to laugh.
When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing.
And so, laughing and crying, we said good-bye to my grandmother. And when we said good-bye to one grandmother, we said good-bye to all of them.
Each funeral was a funeral for all of us.
We lived and died together.
All of us laughed when they lowered my grandmother into the ground.
And all of us laughed when they covered her with dirt.
And all of us laughed as we walked and drove and rode our way back to our lonely, lonely houses. (p. 166)
The novel is sad, tragic and poignant. It is also crude in the language and content at times. The sentences are short and choppy (one of the things I despair of in modern literature), but very much how a young boy would talk. It feels gritty, like it really expresses the poverty and death that surrounds Arnold.
At the end of the book Arnold expresses that he would have died if he had stayed on the reservation. He also has a new hope:
I hoped and prayed that they would someday forgive me for leaving them.
I hoped and prayed that I would someday for give myself for leaving them. (p. 230)
I don’t know who I would recommend this book to, but I was glad to have read it. Even though it is more sad than hopeful, there is a thimble full of hope. Hope is the power to change.
3.5 out of 5 stars
This book is unlike most of what I read.
If you liked this one you might like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool and A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck.