Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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

Arnold "Junior" Spirit has a voice you will not soon forget. He's a bright, brave, and very funny freshman in high school who writes--and draws (the art was done by Ellen Forney)--about the highs and lows of his life on the Spokane Indian Reservation, the problems caused by being "born with water on the brain," and what it is like to be the only Indian student at a small-town high school near the reservation.

There are a lot of lows in the year chronicled in the book--several people close to Arnold die, he loses his best friend, he gets beaten up...repeatedly. But good things happen too--he makes several new friends including another boy who loves to learn and a cute girl who goes to the prom with him and he becomes a star on the high school basketball team. He also comes to accept that he will live his life in a way different from his family members who have stayed in poverty on the reservation.

Author Sherman Alexie is equally scathing in describing racism in the white community Arnold enters to get a better education and the problems of the reservation, especially alcoholism. He also takes on the shortcomings of parents both Anglo and Native American.

Despite being written for a young adult audience, the book offers plenty for an adult reader to think about and enjoy. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian makes me look forward to the time when I can talk about books like this with my granddaughter Meleah.

Favorite passage:
When I was a baby, I'd crawl under my bed and snuggle into a corner to sleep. I just felt warm and safe leaning into two walls at the same time.
When I was eight, nine, and ten, I slept in my bedroom closet with the door closed. I only stopped doing that because my big sister, Mary, told me that I was just trying to find my way back into my mother's womb.
That ruined the whole closet thing.

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