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.