Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Alexie, Sherman. Ills. Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2007.[Book cover credit:]
Horn Book Fanfare Best Book (2007)
National Book Award, Young People's Literature (2007)
American Indian Youth Literature Award (2008)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2008)
Michigan Library Association's Thumbs Up! Award (2008)
And more!

Infuriated by the state of the reservation high school and desperate to avoid the lack of future that so many of his friends and family members have already succumbed to, Junior makes a bold choice and decides to go to high school off the reservation, in town. As the only Native American attending Rearden High School, Junior, now called Arnold, must reconcile his reservation life at home with his image and friends at school.

Junior, to his family and rez friends, or Arnold, to his friends at his all white, off-rez high school, doesn't take anything seriously. Not the constant ass-whippings he receives at the hands of his former classmates and neighbors, who think he is abandoning the tribe.

Not the fact that he's a basketball star at a school where the only other Indian is the mascot.

Not the fact that the adults in his life are plagued by alcoholism and that his father's best friend died fighting over the last sip in a bottle of wine.
Hiding behind his comics, Arnold or Junior has a lot to deal with and no one who can empathize except his diary. Read it, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, to see what he actually takes seriously.
Images are copyrighted by Ellen Forney and used with permission from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. They are from pages 45, 142 and 170.
Review for adults:
In this, Alexie's first novel for young adults, he cannot quite give up the ghost and talks to us no-longer-young adults directly. It's well hidden in the plot, so you don't have to worry that teen readers will think he's preaching to you or to them.
"Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they're the four hugest words in the world when they're put together.
You can do it" (p189).
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a funny, funny book with serious implications about racism, alcoholism, peer pressure and a whole lot of masterbating, which is all well and good. These are things that young adults need to learn about and deal with, and humor is a great way to do it. Adults can also enjoy all of these lessons and laughs and comics, but we should take a good look at the adults in Arnold's life. Be the one who says, "You can do it."

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