Review: Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

January 28, 2011

Read the review and more after the jump. Please note there are spoilers.

Sherman, A. (2007). Absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Arnold Spirit, or Junior, has had a rough life. He was born with water on the brain, and is prone to seizures. He’s also the victim of bullies, except for his best friend Rowdy. When a book-throwing incident gets Junior kicked out of school, he begins to reconsider his life on the reservation. He then decides to leave his best friend, and sometimes his culture, behind as he heads off to an all-white farm school off the reservation. Alexie manages to capture the ups and downs of teen life, as well as exploring the tricky waters of racial identity in this National Book Award winning book. Using drawings, and the painfully honest voice of Junior, the often funny, often sad book makes the reader reevaluate both race and poverty.

Other thoughts:

This book deserves its accolades. What seems like simple writing, often is more complex and heartfelt than hundreds of books on the market today.

There is a particular part when Junior’s love interest Penelope finally asks Junior the question he’s been dreading. “Are you poor?” He fesses up and she responds in a confusing way for him. She’s nice, caring, and understanding. There is a great line where he recognizes the error of his ways, “I’d been thinking about her breasts and she’d been thinking about my whole life.” Race and class are all constructs in some way. They are very real constructs, but there are times when we fail to see past race and class to see human beings. That is the realization I felt Junior was having too. He’d been thinking of Penelope only as a sex symbol. And why not, she’s a girl and he’s a boy? There are hormones at play too. Still, he comes to realize he’d written off some of his classmates, when he could be just as shallow as they could.

Indian did fall apart for me in the end. Maybe it’s true that there is a lot of death on Indian reservations. With how honest the book had been, it would be important to make that a part of Junior’s life. However, it does become very dark, and very depressing in the last 1/3 of the book. It starts with a pretty funny line about Junior’s grandma being struck and killed by a drunk driver. Until you realize that he’s not joking, it actually happened. Awkward moment. Alexie does still present some of the death with humor, but it all starts to pile up, and it felt a little manipulative to pile it on him at the end. Note that I didn’t say it felt unrealistic.

Similar Titles (Read-A-Likes):

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacquline Woodson, Spud by John Van de Ruit, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Native Son by Richard Wright, A Light in August by William Faulkner

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