Tuesday, February 3, 2009

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


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a semi-autobiographical young adult novel by prolific poet/novelist/short story writer Sherman Alexie. The novel's plucky protagonist is Arnold Spirit, a geeky 14-year-old Spokane Indian who lives on the reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Arnold tells us that he was born with water on the brain, and barely survived his infancy, only to have seizures as a kid, and have to endure endless teasing from his peers. But Arnold is very smart, funny, and draws cartoons as a way to make sense of his life, and after a teacher begs him to go to school off the reservation, Arnold starts to attend the white school in Reardon. An outcast at home, and an outcast at his new school, Arnold joins the basketball team, where he eventually finds a measure of acceptance. But he also faces tragedy after tragedy in his family life, where alcoholism takes an ugly toll on the reservation Indians. That Arnold retains his sense of humor, and learns lessons from his extreme difficulties in life, is nearly miraculous.

I think Arnold Spirit is a wonderful character for young adult readers to identify with. He makes difficult choices, he struggles with guilt for leaving his community to try to make himself a better life, he's a fighter, and he tells it like it is. Alexie tells it like it is, too, never sugar-coating the effects of crushing poverty on the Indians on the reservation, yet leaving hope and the possibility of the triumph of the human spirit on the table.

I liked Alexie's movie Smoke Signals, and found it to be a fascinating portrait of Native American culture. I feel the same way about this book, and it makes me want to read his writing for adults.

Sherman Alexie's website is also pretty cool--check it out here.

8 comments:

Jeane said...

I've heard so many good things about this book. Really want to read it now.

litlove said...

I hadn't heard of this book at all although it sounds good, if sad in places. Alas, my son has just got too old for me to read to him any more, or else I'd be ordering my copy!

Gentle Reader said...

Jeane--It was good--bittersweet, and with some great lessons for young adult readers.

litlove--definitely sad in places! I picked it up wondering if it would be good for my son, and I'm hoping I can interest him in reading it (though he hasn't been taking much of my guidance lately!).

J.S. Peyton said...

I've been meaning to get this book for months! I think I was waiting for it to come out in paperback, which should have been a while ago, right? Anyway, thanks for the review! This sounds great.

Gentle Reader said...

J.S.--It was a quick read, and interesting. I think this must be out in paperback by now...

bloglily.com said...

It's good to hear that I am not the only mother whose book choices are not immediately accepted by her children. Still, this looks like a good one to buy and then leave casually around, in the hope that someone will pick it up and get hooked!

estelle said...

I've heard great things about this book -- lots of my friends who don't generally read YA books have really enjoyed it, and I have a soft spot for YA stuff, especially books with outsider/offsider narrators, so I think I will really enjoy it.

Gentle Reader said...

bloglily--LOL, I'm casually leaving this around, too! Sounds like a plan :)

estelle--He's a great outsider narrator, so this should be up your alley!