Sunday, May 4, 2014

Book Review: "The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie

This semester, I am taking history classes that involve the American West and British Colonies & The American Revolution. This is exposing me through several lenses to the treatment of the American Indian tribes and that when the colonists came to America, they began pushing these tribes off of their land until they would ultimately imperialize the country and leave the Indians with designated areas. While we have tackled the issue of race on plenty of occasions and have accepted those from different countries to create what is a melting pot, the Indian tribes were always left out. The status quo has declared that just because these tribes live a lifestyle that doesn't fall into the category of these newer citizens means they're lesser an individual. Of course, this statement is ludicrous and that's exactly what Arnold Spirit Jr., also known as "Junior," has to go through. While Sherman Alexie grew up in the late seventies to early eighties, Junior is telling this story during the 2006-2007 school year and his freshman struggles are most definitely ones that others can relate to, whether they have an Indian background or not.

Arnold Spirit Jr. lives with his alcoholic father and a mother with a professional disposition. Also making up his family is his sister, Mary, who is known as "Mary Runs Away" due to habits of spending twenty-three hours of the day in the basement and notably disappearing from their home. The fact that she achieves what is meant to be a dream... marrying a man in Montana and living in a trailer... is meant to be viewed as a sarcastic stab at a highlight in one's life. Unfortunately for Junior and his background, this is quite a feat. Junior is also heavily influenced and motivated by his grandmother, who gives him witty advice before falling victim to an unfortunate cause... alcohol (and not through consumption, either). The consumption of alcohol and its many wrong-doings remains a recurring theme in the piece. Junior makes constant mention to the fact that those of the Spokane Indian reservation, as well as those in Indian tribes, have it difficult. Not only are they immensely poor, but there is no direction with which they are heading. This is what drives Junior to leave his own school within the area (inspired by the fact he used the same book his mother did, demonstrating how much of a struggle they are in) and head to a school with a white majority, known as Reardan.

At Reardan, Junior has it difficult, but he fits in relatively quick. As plenty of young adult stories convey, he falls for a girl (Penelope), is harassed by a bigger guy who has popularity as a sports star (Roger), and befriends a smart guy (Gordy). The relationships between Junior and both Roger and Gordy stray away from tradition. While Roger heckles him by shouting derogatory Indian terms (such as "Chief") at first, he eventually begins to respect Junior, even if that means being punched before that happens. Gordy is the intelligent person in the piece, though Junior's friendship with him is only meant to last through school. He contemplated having him over to his place, but this was just a thought. Junior's "partner in crime" is from the reservation and his name is Rowdy. Unfortunately, Rowdy feels betrayed when Junior decides to leave the school on the reservation in what he feels is "betrayal." This tension could be felt when they compete against each other on opposing basketball teams, but nevertheless the two get back together in a moment where actions speak louder than words.

There are plenty of moments that are left open, but that has to be because the story is meant to continue. As with every school year, the ending of the story ends with the end of the school year. Junior finishes his freshman year and it is intended that the story will resume with his sophomore year. Sherman Alexie could write a sequel if he really wanted to, but he most definitely does not have to. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian makes a case that is strong enough with the boundaries that are already formed. Junior writes with a wit that he is not afraid to self-deprecate himself with, as he is not afraid to share information about being born with too much water to the head and having sexual fantasies that just about every single male (and many single females) in his age bracket go through. His thought process is that of most teenagers, even if it means he comes from a different background, but he is not afraid to admit that. The "qualifications" that he holds for people (specifically women) is not rare for someone his age. In addition, Junior is not afraid to embrace his tribal traditions while making a name for himself as an individual.

This novel should definitely be embraced by the public and I hold high hope that in some particular fashion, high school English instructors are fitting this into their curriculum. Sherman Alexie does an excellent job conveying a point of view that is immensely similar to his own and creating a background out of it. He also made an excellent decision to have an illustrator in Ellen Forney come together with providing the art that came with Junior's sketches, for that was his method to escape. This here is young adult gold!

Verdict: 10/10

1 comment:

  1. I agree, Native Americans shouldn't have always been left out of the picture.