blo Teens Read and Write: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

You can no longer complain about your life at all!

As the cover implies this is an The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Arnold Spirit, Jr. or just Junior. He was born with water on the brain which is when you have an excess amount of spinal fluid in your skull. He also had 42 teeth (that's 10 more than normal).

These problems and the surgeries that followed gave him serious physical problems: an underdeveloped body (skinny), an over-sized head (to hold all the teeth), hands, and feet, as well as poor eyesight (one eye is farsighted and one is nearsighted), frequent seizures, and he not only stutters but also has a lisp. Piece of cake, right?

He lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation (or rez) in Wellpinit WA, where he is beaten - physically and mentally - and the only thing that keeps him alive is his best friend Rowdy, the toughest kid in school.

On his first day of high school in geometry class, Junior realizes that the book he is using was used by his mother - making the book over 30 years old.

Frustrated that the reservation can't afford up to date text books, and the fact that he feels all his hopes and dreams are being destroyed, he throws his text book and accidentally hits his teacher Mr. P.

During his suspension because of the incident, Junior is visited by Mr. P where he begs Junior to leave the rez before it's too late, before his spirit is broken and any chance of a better life is lost. Junior then starts to attend the all white school in Reardan 22 miles away.

This kid has to deal with so much crap that anytime that I hear another kid complain about how their life sucks, I shake my head and think "Oh, if you only knew."

Junior and his family, and the entire reservation for that matter are all dirt poor. They can barely afford to feed themselves and sometimes don't eat anything for days. His mother is an ex-alcoholic and his father is currently an alcoholic. His sister spends all her time in their basement. When they can't afford gas for their car (because of the poverty or the fact that his dad drank the money away) Junior walks the 22 miles to and from school or if he's lucky, he might hitch a ride.

His friend Rowdy used to spend most of his days at Junior's house because his own father is an abusive alcoholic but I forgot to mention that when Junior announces that he is moving to the white school, Rowdy hits him and won't talk to him again. Rowdy even joins in one of beatings Junior gets. Junior is now an outcast on the rez as well as the white school.

It isn't easy at the white school but Junior sticks with it and finds friends and mentors who help him through the good and bad times. One thing I liked about this book is that no one was all good or all bad. The characters are complex. Junior finds friends with not only the geeks but the jocks and popular kids and ends up shining on the basketball team.

Throughout the ups and downs (mostly downs), Junior keeps a positive attitude, only stumbling once or twice during really hard times. The fact that all of these things are going on and he is still able to get up every morning knowing that he probably won't eat breakfast, will probably walk to school, and will ,for the most part, be ignored by everyone at the white school is astonishing and inspirational.

It's a gritty look at real life on the rez. Poverty, alcoholism and death are everywhere. Junior has gone to 42 funerals by the time he's 13. (I've been to 3). And while this story could be depressing, it is anything but.

I think that everyone should read this book. It's a fast read (only took me about a day and a half to finish) but it sticks with you like few novels do. It has sad parts but also has laugh out loud funny stuff and the pages are peppered with great cartoon drawings. Junior calls life a "series of broken dams and floods" and his drawings are "tiny little life boats."

It's based on the true life experiences of Sherman Alexie. It's awesome and inspiring, and you will walk away with a belief that whatever problems you have can be overcome with courage and perseverance... and ultimately you can triumph over adversity. You will be okay.

Alyssa heard Alexie speak (and he still has the lisp, explaining that it's not because of a speech impediment, "I'm just brain damaged") and she was so impressed by his honesty and humor that she bought the book. I'm glad she did. So I found this kind of by accident because it isn't something I would have picked up on my own, but it will remain one of my all time favorites. I recommend this book as a must read!

So have you ever found a favorite book by accident?


April (BooksandWine) said...

I definitely own this book as well as the Lone Ranger And Tonto Fist Fight In Heaven by Alexie. Great review, I'll have to push this up the TBR, after Zombies week of course :-)

Jenny said...

This sounds really good. Great review!

Tales of Whimsy said...

I've seen this book and I've been drawn to it. I admire Native Americans. Thanks for this amazing review. I look forward to reading it some day.

Ryan said...

What a amazing story. Thank you so much for brining this book to my attention.

Anonymous said...

This was one of my favorite books last year and has been consistently the most popular review/post on my book blog since then. My review can be found here.

I'm adding your review as a link to the bottom of my post, because yours captures the book so well. I'm soooo jealous of Alyssa (your sister) having heard Alexie speak. :)

Jessica said...

I have this book on my wishlist. I've been wanting to pick it but haven't had a chance. After reading your wonderful review, I think I might have to pick it up next time I'm at the bookstore. :)

Casey Something said...

Great review, Jake! This one is high up on my TBR list. I'm looking forward to finally reading it.

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