The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (paperback)
by Sherman Alexie
AR Level 4.0, 6 points (not recommended for children!)
So my husband came home last night with his high school’s required summer novel. Each year, the English teachers get together and choose a book the entire school (students, teachers, staff) should read, and then they spend the first 2 weeks discussing it when school starts in the fall. Last year, it was The Fault In Our Stars, which I didn’t read until last month, and I totally fell in love with John Green. They’ve read Maus, Hunger Games, and Old Man and the Sea, as well. It’s kind of hit or miss. Well, I decided to read the first chapter before I started cooking dinner, and let’s just say that before bed, I only had about 30 pages left of this 229-page book. I thought my class could use some extra AR time (do you believe me?), so we took a little longer after lunch, and I finished it off. I guess you could say it was pretty good.
What made it better was learning it’s a “banned book” in many libraries, schools, and even towns. I have to get my hands on a book people think I shouldn’t read. It’s how I roll.
This book is written from the point of view of a 14-year old Indian boy on a reservation in Spokane. He suffered a lot of trauma as a child, being born with a disorder and nearly dying, but overcame not only his surgeries, but his life on the rez. Junior/Arnold is obviously different from the other boys in the Indian school, and a teacher realizes that, urging him to go to a different high school and get off the reservation. We learn about Junior/Arnold’s transition into a “white” school, and the backlash he receives from the other Indians. Of course, being the underdog, you’re rooting for him to rise above it all throughout the entire novel, and since it is inspired by the author’s own experiences, I am assuming he was successful.
What I liked about this book was the writing. You really, really, really want Arnold to be successful, and that is due to the author’s ability to create such a likable character. You feel his pain, laugh out loud with him, and experience his angst and embarrassment. It is very well-written. The illustrations (Arnold wants to draw comics) add to the experience of reading this book. It is an easy read, not only because it’s written at a fourth grade level, but because you really want to see how Arnold gets out of certain situations.
What I didn’t like this book was the reality. It is easy to say that it makes me sad to think of racism, poverty, and alcoholism in our country, because I am a middle-class white lady who has A drink maybe once every few months. I’ve read about the way Native Americans were pushed onto reservations, how they have casinos, and the diabetes and alcoholism that occurs on the reservations, but this book described those issues in a different light. It was from the viewpoint of a lucid 14-year old boy who is expected to fail, and thinks so little of himself, it is frightening to think that there is another person out there with the same perspective, much less thousands of people. It made me want to take up a collection or volunteer my time educating others. It was really eye opening. So was that what I liked or didn’t like? I’m not sure.
Book 7 of 52