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 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 thought he was destined to live.
I've been meaning to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for ages. It's been recommended to me right and left; brandished, paraded, and flourished in front of me. Every so often I'd see it around at a place of books and think, I have to read that soon. A few days ago, I finally picked it up and read it. And I should've read it sooner, I should've made time for it. Because The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is not the sort of book you should ignore. You got to take notice of it, you got to devour it, and you got to love it.
Junior, the main character, is just so plain lovable. His voice is distinct, funny, and wise. This book details his first year leaving his reservation in order to go to school at Rearden, whose students are all white and mostly well off. Junior on the other hand, is Indian and poor. Dirt poor. The kind of poor where he doesn't get enough to eat. The type of poor that breeds misfortune. And boy, does Junior go through misfortune. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian should by all rights be a tragedy, because Junior's life is a pretty much a tragedy.
Junior goes through some lows and some high points in his life. When you're reading this book, you'll be stringed on along with him. You'll be immersed in his world--full of alcoholic parents that still love him, a sister nicknamed Mary Runs Away who wants to write romance novels, and Rowdy, his violent and misunderstood best friend. There's a whole host of great characters in this book. Which just makes it even more heartbreaking when Junior and his family have to endure horrible calamities.
But don't get the wrong idea: this book isn't depressing by any means. Sure, it's poignant and uninhibited and might make you cry. But it'll also make you crack up, make you smile so much you get cheek cramps*. And it'll fill you with hope. Because above all, this book is a tale of hope, of never-giving-up, and an example of what you can do when you set your mind to it. Thinking of this novel, I just want to reach into the velvety crisp pages of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and give Junior a hug, and tell him he's amazing, because he is. I have a thing for the underdog, for the hero who has everything against him. I think this is part of the reason why with Junior, Alexie has created a character that I'll love forever.
And speaking of Alexie, he's also amazing. His writing is beautiful, masterful. Here's some of my favorite quotes:
"I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats."
"We Indians really should be better liars, considering how often we've been lied to."
"I didn't know what to say, so I just stood there red and mute like a stop sign."
"I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,' I said. 'By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not."And scattered in between lines of lovely prose are cartoons (by Ellen Fogey). Junior wants to be a cartoonist, and I love the cartoons so, so, much. Here's one:
Maybe Junior's insights are a little too wise for a 14-year-old, but that's something I'm willing to overlook.
So this book is awesome story + wonderful characters + lovely cartoons + gorgeous prose. I'm not sure what that equals. Something jaw-dropping. Heart-stopping. Unparalleled.
Don't make the same mistake I did and put off reading this book. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fairly short read, but the amount of pages has nothing to do with the amount of substance. In 200-something pages, Sherman Alexie pens genius. Pure, unadulterated genius. You know it's an amazing read when it makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. This book is full of laugh-out-loud humor and great tragedy; and the mixture of both makes for an absolutely unforgettable read.
My Rating: 9.5/10. If you don't go read this NOW I'll force you to, somehow. That's how much I recommend it.
*gah. Aren't those painful? Lol.