"I wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved Ellen Forney's illustrations, but I felt like the narrative only retrod ground that Sherman Alexie's been down many, many times before. Sure, he's really good at it, but I want something different now. Plus, I was not entirely convinced by the voice of the teen narrator. It felt to me like Alexie was just reworking the voices of previous characters from Reservation Blues -- the nerdy, slightly outcast Spokane Indian who loves books & basketball, has an angry best friend, has many drunk & depressed relatives, etc -- and adding some teen slang & angst to the mix.
There are several deaths in this novel, and they happen so quickly & abruptly that they almost feel cartoonish in a way. Alexie only gives his readers one or two scenes with the characters who die, and in most of these scenes their personalities and words are filtered through the narrator's voice. So it's difficult for the reader to really feel the impact of their loss in the narrator's life. We don't know these characters as full personalities, so we can't really grieve with the narrator or fully appreciate his grief.
Finally, there was the gratuitous use of a homophobic slur in an exchange between the main character & his best friend. Alexie even acknowledges that it's problematic to use these words, writing "Now that might just sound like a series of homophobic insults, but I think it was also a little bit friendly. ." I found this acknowledgment silly, out of character, and even a little bit offensive. The characters are not queer, so it's not as though they were reclaiming the words to use with each other. Alexie knows it's not kosher to use those terms unless you belong to that group yourself, so he tries to get away with it by having the character show some awareness that it's not okay. But in the end, he's simply validating the use of hateful terms. Either make your character a homophobe (or at least someone who's naive about the meaning of those terms) or make him someone who understands how hurtful those words can be and refuses to use them. But don't write a two-page chapter that ends with the main straight character calling himself "a happy faggot." Just don't do it. " Abby said.
"Alexie’s autobiographical YA novel features Junior, who escapes into comics (drawn in the manner of a kid, wonderfully, by Ellen Forney) from his often tragic life on the rez, particularly The Spokane Indian Reservation. It’s in a kind of diary format, and the “part-time Indian” part of the title refers to the move he makes to leave the rez school in Wellpinit to travel to an all-white school in Reardan, twenty-two miles away but it might as well be a continent away. That move, initated by a teacher who tells him to get out to save himself, separates Junior from both worlds.
Junior’s best rez friend is Rowdy, who protects him from being beaten up sometimes. In Reardan he also has makes a friend, Gordy, an also smart kid, and gets support from Roger, his basketball teammate, but he also has a (white) girlfriend named Penelope. Junior was born with Hydrocephalus, too much fluid on the brain, which has long time effects including seizures, vision problems, dental issues, and more. He gets beaten up a lot, there’s a lot of fighting on the rez, but Rowdy needs to make sure he doesn’t get hit on the head.
Along the way there are tragedies involving his best friend dog, Oscar, his sister who wants to write romance novels, his Dad’s best friend, Eugene that are somewhat balanced by Junior/Alexie’s laughter in the face of all things bad. You might laugh and cry on the very same page; sometimes it could happen in the same sentence! There’s a streak of rage in Alexie that runs deep. You find it in his novel Indian Killer, but it crops up everywhere, usually about the decimation of Indian culture and land appropriation, but he also has rage about the devastation of alcoholism, which continues to destroy lives everywhere, but disproportionately in Indian populations. The damage it does to Junior’s life is extensive, and he’s mad about it. And at the same time, Junior finds something to laugh about, sometimes hysterically, about these losses.
The epigraph for the book comes from Yeats: “There is another world, but it is in this one.” This idea works in various ways in this book. Many people don’t know the depression and poverty of Indian reservations, even today. That often sad world of the rez exists in the larger world of the U. S., largely invisible. But the world of the spirit also exists within the world of the rez, a world of hope, of escape from disabilities, brutality.
There’s a lot of laugh out loud humor in this book, often laughing at uncomfortable subjects, laughter amid tears. There’s hope in that laughter, but it’s comolicated, because you don’t want to make the mistake of thinking things are all right because of the jokes. But for Junior hope also comes packaged as books, Indian culture, basketball, friendship, family, even as he identifies the long sad history of the destruction of Indian culture in this country, and the rampant depression, the inadequate health care, the hunger, Junior’s various disabilities. There’s blame here for white America, but Alexie/Junior also blames Indians sometimes for their share of responsibility in taking itself down. Shared responsibility, collective rage.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may not be for everyone. There may be a little too much sexual language for some readers, there’s a regular thread about masturbation in it. The language can at times be more graphic than in most YA books. The book sometimes substitutes jokes for deeper characterization, in places. He goes for the joke too much maybe, but the jokes are so good and painfully true! I loved reading this sad and funny book again with my class. It affirms the importance of self-expression through words, through comics, stories.
" David Schaafsma said.
" Really enjoyed this! It was a rather interesting writing style. It had this very casual feeling to it. I will say that there are a few things here and there that irked me, but for the most part it was enjoyable. Full video review to come! :) " Jesse (JesseTheReader) said.
"This book surprised me. It was actually a little shocking in its language considered it's for kids, at least teenagers. That being said, I think it's still a good book for teens even with the inappropriate language and subject matter as long as an adult or parent has read it too and is available to answer question and have dialogue about it. What I like most about the book was its take on racism where Native Americans are concerned. We seem to be distracted with and focused on Black and White today. It's much bigger than that and a lot of blame to go around for all. What I didn't like was that it came off as real at first then digressed into a little fantasy with the basketball story. " Kyle Knight said.
"I wish I had written this, which is a ridiculous—and very white—thing to say for a 65-year-old white woman writer. But as 14-year-old Arnold Spirit says about white people who visit his “rez,” they like to like Indians a whole lot. However this story of a Spokane Indian boy who opts to leave the rez where he gets beat up all the time to go to a white school where he starts as an outsider, becomes an insider, thereby becoming even more an outsider in his own tribe, while remaining a part-outsider at the new school because he is an Indian in a white school—well it is so true and funny that it can become “a story I wish I’d written” to anybody who has felt like an outsider. In short, I loved it." Betsy Robinson said.
"4 1/2 stars
I guess I can see how someone who’s never read a single word of this book could look at a laundry list of the “issues” that are even loosely related to it and feel that it might be inappropriate for a young audience. Actually, to be honest…I really can’t see that at all. Who else BUT kids, who are facing all of the horrifying aspects of living for the first time, should be encouraged to read a book like this?
Even with all of the above mentioned issues (and for the record, there’s alcoholism, domestic violence, bullying, poverty, eating disorders, racism, death, and the scariest of all – masturbation!), this book never feels anything like an “issue book.” This is above everything else, the story of a person finding a way to navigate through all of the sadness and tragedy surrounding him, by stringing together all of the tiny moments of happiness and grace that he can find. It’s also about finding the courage to break free from everything that you’ve known with the small hope of finding something better. If that doesn’t describe the plight of being young, then I don’t know what does!
I loved the illustrations, and I can’t imagine this book without them (although I hear that the audiobook is great). Some of them contain a humor much darker than even I typically employ. I love so many of the characters, but I laughed quite a lot every time Gordy explained something to Junior. I think that living life with the expectation of getting a metaphysical boner is a great way to live!
There are so many things that I can relate to in this book, like the desperate anxiety to keep poverty hidden, even though as a child, that’s not something that one can control. Initially I felt that he was overly positive about certain things, or that this story felt a bit too much like a fairy tale. But then I read this in an article that he recently wrote:
”I can’t speak for other writers, but I think I wrote my YA novel as a way of speaking to my younger, irredeemable self.”
That made me think about all of the ways that I would want to speak to and comfort myself as a child. This book feels like something to curl up with and remember all of the painful childhood knocks with, while celebrating all the ways that I learned to cope. It’s like a balm.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Colin Hay – Beautiful World
I love this song from Colin Hay, former lead singer of Men at Work. It’s a celebration of all the little things that make life beautiful, despite the surrounding tragedies.
" Catie said.
"This was moving, and funny, and totally predictable but still handled difficult topics in a way that does not patronise its intended audience - the YA-ship.
I know, I keep bashing a lot of YA reads because I find them silly or overly emotive, and in a way the story of Arnold, too, suffers from both these elements, but there is also something fresh and raw in the way Arnold describes his world that is hilarious and sincere at the same time.
In short, I enjoyed all the elements that ensure this book ended up on the "banned books" list. Why ould you want to keep YA readers away from a story that focuses on the emancipation of the main character and his struggle with his sense of community?
Why ban a book on the grounds of language and perceived non-conformance to political correctness when the essence of the story really tries to deconstruct some of the myths of the cultural barriers that the book banning people seem to think are portrayed in an offensive manner?
Really makes you question whether the book banning people have read the book at all.
This reader would not be surprised if they had not.
It does remind me of one of my favourite scenes in the book (even though it is very similar to a certain scene in Dead Poets Society), at the end of which Arnold Spirit, Jr, concludes that he used to think that people were divided by their differences in tribes, or race, but that really there are only two kinds of people: those who are assholes, and those who are not." BrokenTune said.
"I consider Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven one of my favorite books, but as is often my way, I read it over 10 years ago and inexplicably haven't read anything else by Alexie since. Maybe I just worry no other books will live up to that first one. But The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has obviously garnered a lot of attention--it won the National Book Award, and here in my town it was the "One Book, One Philadelphia" selection a few years back. There's always a big pile of copies of it in my local bookstore, and I finally gave in to it--I don't read a ton of YA, but perhaps subconsciously I thought this would prevent me from directly comparing it to Lone Ranger and Tonto.
I'm not sure this strategy worked, exactly, because at first I was disappointed by the tone of this--it just seemed a little too goofy, and I began to wish I'd chosen some other Alexie for my second book. Fortunately, as I kept going, I warmed to the characters, all of whom were extremely well drawn, and I was very moved by Junior's experiences both on the reservation and at his new school off the rez. I also began to notice similarities between this and Lone Ranger and Tonto--mainly in the use of mild magical realism and the telling of (tall?) tales from the past.
I'm really impressed by what an achievement this is as a work of YA fiction. There are literally millions of kids in this country (and parents, let's be honest) who have no idea what life is like on a reservation and what the experience can be when you leave it. It's so valuable to have a book like this, which gets this (often grim) message across yet is funny, unpretentious, and entirely fun to read. I'm hoping this book is being taught in schools and finds its way into a lot of hands, because it deserves every bit of attention it gets.
This book is illustrated by Ellen Forney, and the art is fun and sometimes quite interesting. My edition had an interview with Forney at the end, and if your copy has it as well, don't skip it--it's a fascinating look at her artistic process in creating the illustrations, and it made me appreciate them even more.
" Julie Ehlers said.