Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

Alexie, Sherman. 2007. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

This book is nominated for the Cybils in the YA category. It is also a finalist in the National Book Awards. And there is some talk of including it in Librarians' Choices 2007. My thoughts? Well, it was good. There were parts I really enjoyed, and some that were just okay for me. It is the story of a young boy, a young man actually, a freshman in high school that is trying to find his identity. He's Indian. (American Indian as in Native American). He lives on a reservation. Our narrator, Junior, is an awkward, geeky, "weird" teen who is an outsider almost everywhere he goes. He only has one friend on the reservation, Rowdy, and at his new school, he spends most of his time alone...on the fringe of the geeks and nerds. The book has many humorous moments, and quite a few serious moments as well. His life is full of family problems and social turmoil. On one hand, it's the story of a family, a community in crisis, you see first hand on alcohol affects family life. Also playing a role is poverty and deferred dreams. He lives in a community devoid of hopes and dreams. No one tries anymore. No one wants to make a better life for themselves. Junior wants more. He needs more. He knows that if he accepts life "as it is" or "how it's always been" then it will kill him. Why be content to live in poverty. To not get an education. To just drink your days and nights away. To gamble away the money when you happen to have a few bucks on hand. He sees this lifestyle in his own family, and in his community at large. He sees the traps. He wants to escape that. His sister also wants to escape. Each have different ways of escaping. One is ultimately more successful than the other. The novel isn't pretty. There are some harsh details of life--his father being a drunk, his mother a recovering alchoholic, the murder of one his father's friends, the death of his grandmother due to a drunk driver, and even more losses as the book goes on. But if you stick with it, there remains a small grain of hope. But on the other hand, The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian is just your classic school story of a nerd learning to find his place in the world. Learning to make friends. Learning to have faith in himself. Learning to just be true to himself. That is something every person can relate to. While Junior may be a bit of a nerd, he is also quite good at basketball. He's quite good at a lot of things really--like drawing, for example. He just needs to get a little boost of confidence and find the courage to try for all of his dreams. Sometimes the first steps are the hardest to take. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian isn't for everyone. It's definitely, in my opinion, for older teens. Or for mature teens whose exposure to alcohol and strong language and some sexual references won't be a big deal. I know this is a family by family decision. What is 'fine' for one family isn't for another. It's not for an outsider to determine what is and isn't appropriate. But the writing is good. I don't want to frighten anyone away, it's just not a "clean" read.

I'm planning on writing an overview of all the finalists in the National Book Awards. So I'll say more there.

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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