Tuesday, January 11, 2011

THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie's THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN is a thought-provoking story about a fourteen-year-old boy named Junior, living an impoverished and hopeless existence on a Spokane Indian "rez."

Junior is an endearing and complicated character whose energy and voice hooked me in the first page. In spite of his having overcome several medical conditions, this witty, sarcastic and intelligent young boy has all but given up on aspiring to a better life. He spends his days indoors for fear of being bullied, and on a near daily basis loses a friend or loved one to alcohol abuse.

He offers the reader a glimpse of how he perceives himself when he says:
"It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it." 
What changes for him?

A teacher who recognizes his artistic talent tells him he's a fighter and encourages him to seek out a better life outside the reservation, advising him, in what I think is one of the most crucial scenes in the book, that the only way he'll find hope is by getting as far away from the reservation as possible:

"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 kill the Indian to save the child."
"You killed Indians?"
"No, no. It's just a saying. I didn't literally kill Indians. We were supposed to make you give up being Indian. Your songs and stories and language and dancing. Everything. We weren't trying to kill Indian people. We were trying to kill Indian culture." 
A couple pages later the teacher goes on:
"If you stay on this rez," Mr. P said, "they're going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. We're all going to kill you. You can't fight us forever."
It took a teacher encouraging Junior and planting a seed of hope for him to get the courage to ask his parents' permission to transfer to a wealthy, all-white school outside his reservation. And although just getting to and from the school is a challenge, he adjusts, makes friends, gains confidence, overcomes preconceived ideas and exceeds expectations.

But Junior's success comes at a cost, as nothing prepares him for the feelings of guilt and betrayal that plague him for having left his tribe. Can he still be Indian and be successful? If so, then why is it that the more successful and confident he becomes, the less Indian, more White, he feels?

I loved this book and don't believe it should be banned. Junior's use of profanity is minimal and his thoughts on masturbation are probably authentic to that of any fourteen-year-old boy.

Oh. And before I forget. The illustrations are hysterical, helping to relieve some tension during what might otherwise be a very heavy read.


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"Read. Read one-thousand pages for every one page that you write."
-- Sherman Alexie

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