In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
**Review of the audio version of the book listened to on a Playaway audio device**
The audio version of this book is narrated by the author, and since it’s semi-autobiographical I felt like that really added to the story. I particularly enjoyed listening to his accent, to me it added a lot of realism. I understand that there are some really awesome/hilarious drawings in the print version of the book so I do feel like I missed out on that a bit, but I guess it’s a fair trade-off.
Sherman Alexie has not lead an easy life. At times, this book was both hard and depressing as Junior suffers loss after loss. In fact, I almost had to quit listening very early on due to one particular scene. If you’ve read a couple of my reviews you might be able to guess why – it involves an animal. Add the fact that I was listening to it at work and that made it extra tough. I actually did end up skipping ahead a little bit. Not much, just far enough to get past the worst of it.
That said, it’s also a somewhat uplifting book. It’s a kid who endures loss and humiliation in order to attend a ‘white’ school and receive a better education in an attempt to make a better future for himself and lift himself out of the poverty he lives in on the reservation. Junior deals with things that would break a lot of lesser kids but somehow manages to keep going.
I knew going into this that it’s part of a lot of high school curricula, and I knew that it’s challenged in a few of these school districts. After reading the part about masturbation, I guess I know why some parents are calling it “pornography.” Granted, I do not agree with these people AT ALL and I think they’re living in a happy fairy fantasy land if they think that their high school aged kid not only doesn’t know about masturbation but doesn’t perform the act regularly. There are also some other sexual situations and some of the language was bad – not to mention racist – but people are also kidding themselves if they don’t think that this stuff exists in schools as well. I’d imagine that the people trying to get this banned are cut from the same cloth as those who tried to get the Diary of Anne Frank banned because it’s “a real downer” – in other words, people not fully acquainted with the real world and how it works.
This is an amazingly written book and a great story and it actually kind of makes me ragey that there are people trying to get it banned. They’re obviously not reading the entire thing and looking at it from a big picture perspective, they’re just cherrypicking little things that offend their delicate sensibilities. I can’t imagine there being a person out there who can’t relate in some way to this book, whether it’s grieving for someone who has died, grieving the loss of a friendship, being poor, feeling like an outsider, being bullied, being angry/depressed, feeling like you’re cursed, dealing with family problems, or just feeling in some way different than those around you. I just can’t believe that there are people who could read this book and not feel some sort of kinship with Junior and not take something positive away from it. To me, this is what high school aged kids should be reading. People of all ages should be reading it, actually. These kinds of feelings don’t necessarily stop magically upon your high school graduation and many people suffer from them their entire lives.
It also contains what might be one of my favorite quotes from any book:
“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,” I said. “By black and white, by Indian and white. But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
So, so true.