17 June 2011

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

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.

Grade Level: 9-12

Harsh, honest, and perhaps a minor bit abrasive that would be the best way to describe Sherman Alexie’s book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Junior tells his story the way a normal 14 year old boy who was generally comfortable with his audience would tell it. He doesn’t hold back on topics that may make some people uncomfortable. Although the protagonist is Native American, anyone can put themselves in Junior’s shoes. There are things in life that destroy hope, and only when we give into those do we lose ourselves. Junior learns that to have hope, he does have to leave a piece of himself behind, that part of him that makes the Indians around him lose all hope and drown it in a bottle; he must walk away and perhaps only be a “part-time Indian,” but at least he may just be able to become “full-time” himself. The part of the book where Junior speaks of expectations, about adults having high expectations for kids, and when they do, those kids want to meet them is so very true. Too many places in this world, adults have given up on kids; it’s not that they are not capable, but that they know no one really believes they can so what is the point. This book can teach both kids to have hope and adults to share theirs.

The plot covers a very short amount of time, Junior’s first year of high school. The plot is peppered with flashbacks of personal experiences had by Junior that have helped to shape how he sees people, his reservation, and his world. Right from the beginning you understand just how much he feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere. The cartoons that are spread throughout the book serve to enhance how Junior sees the world and how he deals with the world. Half the characters in the book you want to smack and the other half you want to hug, and this is totally interchangeable. Alexie creates an Everyman in the character of Junior, a Spokane Indian who was never supposed to leave the reservation.  He also uses the more minor characters to reflect pieces of Junior. He weaves them all together, and one is able to gain a minor understanding into this kid’s world. The language is genuine. Junior speaks the way one would expect from a 14 year old boy from a small town, who happens to be pretty smart. He does leave out Junior’s speech impediments, but mentioning them allows one to imagine how he may sound to those around him, and how that may add to his struggles. 

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