My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Published: September 2007
Publisher: Little, Brown BFYR
Recommended Age: 10+
Genres & Themes: Young Adult, High School, Coming of Age, Humor, Loss, Social Issues
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 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.
The best stories have truth in them.
Even if it’s a fictional story, if it feels realistic, if you can imagine these events taking place in real life, or if it reveals you something about human nature and the world we live in along the way, then it’s a golden truth. It’s even better if the book was shaped from the author’s own living experiences.
Indians don’t need your pity. They don’t want you to feel sorry for their lack of dollar bills or the aggression and racism directed their way.
In fact, native peoples have come a long way. They have survived, they have resisted, and they have fought. They are resilient and smart. Today, there are more self-governing First Nations than a few decades ago. Having taken a course on reconciliation and rebuilding of native communities in Canada, I know this to be important and remarkable.
But unfortunately, in the majority of cases, the reserves are poorly-managed, without well-developed services and, at times, dangerous places. Arnold Spirit, the hero of this book, lives on one of those reserves.
All he wants is to get out of it. He is convinced that’s the only way he’ll survive and have the slightest of chances to become someone. So far, so good: he’s transferring to an all-white high school and trying to fit in, or at least not cause any trouble, but he can’t escape the place he grew up in so easily, especially since he has to go back there every day, and he certainly can’t escape his skin-colour.
The author’s writing is thoroughly engaging. I wasn’t expecting to finish this one in one sitting, and yet I didn’t want to interrupt my reading for any reasonable reason. The humour is on point, the tone a mix of light and serious, and Arnold’s experiences extremely relatable. I may be a born Romanian Canadian girl who has only been the target of racist comments a maximum of four times in my life, but we all understand what it means to have insecurities and to be unsure if we could ever fit in somewhere.
And pain. This is a notion foreign to no one. Unless you’ve lived a completely sheltered life, you’ve had your heart broken once or twice or a dozen times. Rest assured, many more await you.
This novel should be a mandatory read for teenagers in every school. It’s not only eye-opening, insightful and relatable, it’s also very… reassuring. Whatever ails your soul, you’ll get through it. After all, the human body was programmed to stay alive.
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