Monday, May 30, 2016

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

Reviewed by Ambrea

Junior has spent his entire life growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  Born with a wide variety of medical problems, including seizures and dental issues, he find himself picked on by everyone—except his best friend, Rowdy.  But when an incident at school spurs Junior to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town, he quickly learns he’s probably the most hated person on the rez.  Determined to receive a good education, Junior aims for  high grades and a position on the basketball team that earns him the unexpected admiration of his peers—and discovers a courage and strength he didn’t know he had.

Written by Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a wonderfully engaging novel that recounts one young man’s struggle to earn the education he deserves.  And, while I did find the story appealing, I decided to pick it for the simple fact that it was on the banned books list (again) for 2014.  Like Captain Underpants (yes, seriously), The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Bluest Eye, Alexie’s novel has managed to appear on the list not once, not twice, but five time since its publication in 2007—and I was curious as to why so many readers found it so offensive.

So, I read it.

I can see why certain readers may have problems with the book.  I mean, adolescence is a rather terrible time to endure.  Between puberty, peer pressure, coming to grips with one’s sexuality, bullying, social and cultural expectations, it’s a very messy business.  But that doesn’t stop Junior from telling readers all about it.  It might host some material that’s unsuitable for younger readers, such as sexually explicit and/or strong language, violence/violent behaviors, but I think it’s definitely a novel worth reading.  While I did pick up The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian because it ended up on another banned books list, I finished it because it’s a great YA novel and an engaging piece of coming-of-age literature.

Sherman Alexie does a wonderful job bringing Junior’s character to life, offering an intimate glimpse into the conflicts he faces and the difficult choices he must make—and, more importantly, giving readers a chance to see the person he becomes.  After all, Junior is a smart kid.  He makes an intelligent, insightful narrator, and he manages to weave his story together with all the familiar angst and anger that any teenager feels on a daily basis.  He works hard to further his education and, at the recommendation of his geometry teacher, sets out to learn at a local school beyond the reservation.  Not only does he face being ostracized by his community for leaving, he’s initially ridiculed by his peers at Reardan and he endures a scathing sense of abandonment after his best friend leaves him.  He tells you his struggles, tells you what he thinks and feels, giving you a candid account of what it’s like to be a kid who feels like a fish out of water.

Even though Junior has much different life experiences, I always felt like I had the ability to connect to him.  In telling his story, he shows the real struggles that most teenager face:  loss, love, friendship, failure, tragedy, harassment and bullying, parental and social expectations.  He makes his story accessible, recounting the universal experiences that many teenagers are likely to endure in high school.  He’s a wonderful, candid narrator with a heart of gold and he’s a fantastic storyteller, appealing to readers with both his words and his illustrations.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and I’m glad I took the time to read it.  There’s just something about Sherman Alexie’s novel that makes it so very good.  Perhaps it’s Junior’s illustrations, or his storytelling abilities, or his heart-wrenching story as he recounts his sudden move from the rez to Reardan—or exceptional trifecta of amusing illustrations, a wonderful narrator, and a great story—that makes it such an iconic work for young adults.  Either way, I found it to be a fantastic novel that was appealing and, more importantly, accessible.

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