21 October 2014

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

This book intrigued me since it was on the list of most-challenged books. I can see why. It deals with a lot of themes that prudish people would rather people not think about: alcoholism, racism, poverty, a candid and hilarious examination of hormonal adolescence. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but it was an absorbing, brutally honest book.

Diary follows Arnold Spirit, Jr. (aka Junior), a teenager living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, who decides to attend the public school outside the Reservation (aka the school for white kids) after being assigned the same math textbook as his mother was thirty years ago.

While it could be an easy, typical fish-out-of-water story, the truth is much, much deeper. Junior isn’t just a fish out of water. His own community brands him a traitor. His best friend turns on him. And his new classmates aren’t much nicer.

Alexie gives Junior a keen and unflattering insight into his world. He knows how messed up his life is, but he finds the things he loves in it, as well. He sees how the white kids at his new school have things so much better than him - and yet can have troubles all their own. He learns that if he lets people in, he can find unexpected connections.

Diary is very tactful and honest in the way it handles race relations. No one felt like a stereotype. The white people didn’t act like saviors for Arnold: he had to save himself. The white savior is one of the most tired tropes in literature, and I was glad Diary avoided it. It also stayed well clear of any Noble Savage tropes, thank god.

Instead, it was brutally honest. Alcohol plays a big part in the story of Junior’s life. As does poverty. But through it all burns a fierce hope. It’s that hope for the future that made Junior so compelling to follow.

I really liked this book. I read the whole thing in a day. It was funny, touching, thought provoking, and very fulfilling.