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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review: "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie.

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

Author: Sherman Alexie.

Publisher: Andersen Press.

Pages: 230.

Summary (taken from Fantastic Fiction): In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story
of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully
written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Cover impressions: My copy of the book comes with a glowing quote from Neil Gaiman that declares “I have no doubt that in a year or so it’ll be winning awards and being banned.” Now that Banned Book Week is upon us and the brain melting mess that was “Speak-Gate” has highlighted just how big a problem book banning is, I thought there was no better time to review this book than now, especially since this book was also recently removed from a school library not too far from the district where rape apparently equals soft core pornography.

Junior, a.k.a. Arnold Spirit, is in many ways a typical teenage boy. He’s often foul mouthed, thinks about masturbation quite a lot, often bottles up his feelings and has a wicked yet frequently bleakly dark sense of humour that reflects his situation. Regularly mocked and bullied by the rest of the ‘rez’ because of his disabilities (he was born with water on the brain, much like Alexie himself – the book is evidently semi-autobiographical), Junior’s struggle for identity and independence is something I think is universally relatable. His witty and relatable narration tackles some pretty hard hitting topics, like alcoholism, poverty, racism, bullying and the struggles still faced by the Native American community to this day. I give major credit to Alexie for his skill in describing the heart breaking conditions and circumstances that surround Junior in his everyday life and not once making the story feel over wrought or full of drama for the sake of drama. It’s genuinely heart wrenching stuff to read the scenes where Junior talks about being poor. The equally witty and hilarious illustrations, provided by Ellen Forney, work hand in hand with the rest of the novel to show Junior’s thoughts and feelings in ways he has difficulty expressing aloud.

The book is often challenged for its strong language and sexual imagery but it feels natural to the voice of a frustrated teenage boy. It’s a very personal book that doesn’t shy away from Junior’s difficulties as he tries to balance being the outcast in the reservation, who sees him as a traitor for wanting to leave, with being the outcast in his new all white school. While it’s a deeply personal story, the supporting cast is full of interesting characters, such as Junior’s first new friend at high school Gordy, possibly the biggest geek ever created. While the book is a quick read at 230 pages and some of the storylines just seem to fade away into the distance as the book ends, that’s just a small fault and in no way spoils the book. I can understand why cowardly censor loving book banners would want to remove this book from libraries – it’s a powerful book that has more guts than half the stuff currently on the shelves. It’s an unforgettable book that tackles subjects a lot of people would rather forget about and it’s a perfect example of why I love YA.


Remember to buy, read or borrow as many banned books as possible. Nothing scares a coward more than knowledge! Here's the American Library Association's page on Banned Book Week.

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Anonymous said...

A very nice review, this does sound really good, I should see if they have it in our library!

Anonymous said...

Aaah I remember this book. It remains one of my favorites since I read it a couple years ago. I ended up reading it during break, lunch, and sneaking bits of reading during class time because I didn't want to put it down. I'm not ashamed to admit that there were a few parts in the book that made me tear up in public though most of it had me grinning the entire day.

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