Monday, January 12, 2015

2015: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

One of the things I was committed to in 2015 was to read more diversely. I am pretty niche – high fantasy and theology. But even within those genres I still read relatively few women and probably fewer who aren’t white. I became aware of Sherman Alexie as the screenwriter for the film Smoke Signals. I had thought several times that I might want to check out his writing, but never seemed to find the time. So, in that context, I picked up The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian not knowing it was actually Young Adult fiction.

Now if you know me you know I actually like some young adult fiction. There is a lot of good stuff in that category these days. From the Hunger Games to Harry Potter and from what I hear Divergent and Eragon, there is just a lot to celebrate there. How does Diary compare to these books? I think it holds its own. Sure, there is no magic like Harry Potter, sure there is no survival like Hunger Games, and sure there is no whatever it is that Divergent and Eragon do.

What you have instead is this comedic portrayal of Arnold Spirit, Jr. who discovers that in order to leave the cycles of poverty and despair at the Rez, he has to leave the Rez for school. The diary however is not just comedy, but does a great job of describing the plight of Native Americans stuck in alcoholism and poverty, because they were set up for failure. Beyond that it also has deep emotional resonance. Without giving anything away there are moments that you are pained for Arnold; Alexie writes in a way that you want to reach out and grab his shoulder and tell him that everything is going to be okay.

Alexie is equal parts prophet and comedian in this work. Everything is told in the words of a 14-year old who is probably a little too mature for his age. But because of his relentless optimism and tenacity he takes on some of the worst situations imaginable. What I like about this story though is that things change him; they do not defeat him, but they mark a change in the way that he understands life. There is growth over the course of this one man’s freshman year of high school.

So, who she read this book? Probably anyone who wants a good laugh or enjoys young adult fiction. Maybe those that really enjoy stories about first nation characters. I personally think that it would be best for those who just want to love a character for a weekend. I somehow read it in a weekend, because I just wanted to know how Arnold was going to tackle the next thing. And that was a very good thing!

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