I had read something of Sherman Alexie’s in my Gay & Lesbian Lit class in college (The Toughest Indian in the World), and I remembered liking it but not being floored. My professor casually suggested that we check this writer out because he has a unique perspective. It is only because of an upcoming young adult trivia night that I picked up this book for my yet unnamed team.
The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian wasted no time in getting started. Readers are hit with a rough and sudden view of the narrator’s self-image and the daily tragedies of living on the rez. These descriptions are relayed factually and without any degree of pity or sorrow, and with doodles by our narrator Junior, and I was glad this book was so well paced we were informed of a backstory and moved forward pretty quickly. There is nothing I hate more than a sob-story of a book with a sad sack narrator (Here’s looking at you, Oscar Wao). We meet Junior, his parents that are introduced by a loving son (and about whom we gradually learn some pretty ugly things), his grandmother and his best friend Rowdy. We also meet some anonymous bullies and some that get names but no real identities, in 30-year-old scumbags beating up on a 14-year-old kid.
We also briefly meet the pivotal teacher Mr. P., who is a white teacher on the reservation who taught Alexie’s parents (with the same textbooks used today) and his sister. We also learn of the heinous motivations of the white teachers who work on the reservation, whose aim is to beat the Indian out of students and encourage them to give up. A very remorseful and bandaged Mr. P. tells Junior what everyone thinks and what he needs to here: Get out of here, you deserve better.
Bravely, Junior asks to transfer to a better school, off reservation, chock full of rich white kids who don’t seem to fight by the same rules as the Spokane. The book follows a very hopeful, smart, courageous Junior (now called by his given name Arnold) through being the new kid, being an outsider, and exploring, tearfully but endearingly, what it’s like to break the pattern.
…Plus a bunch of crazy stuff happens in very few pages, starting on page 154.
Native American Writers
Aside from Sherman Alexie, we don’t seem to have a great pool of literature to draw upon. The only other such writer I can think of is John Twelve Hawks, whose The Traveler was highly recommended to me. If anyone reading can think of some other good Native American authors, please let me know in the comments!
This book took me about 2 hours to read, and I am a slow reader. It is worth reading. There is a lot more to say than what is here, and the novel breezes by swiftly. The narrator is likable and you know, without him stating it outright, that he is in a constant struggle of individual vs. community, and that he is employing his only strategy of one step, one mile, one day, one ray of hope at a time. I give it a 4 out of 5.