February has been a trudge, ya’ll. It seems like every step I take just weighs me down a little more. But that’s not to say that good things didn’t happen this month. I got to see a fantastic production of Venus in Fur, my library outreach work was much better attended, and I decided to attend the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas due to a little help from some friends. And! And and and! I read this gem of a book!
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has been on my to-read list since it came out. I had read The Toughest Indian in the World in undergrad (thanks Johnny Quest!), and since I was one of only three people including the professor who wasn’t too embarrassed to talk about its contents, the book made a strong impression on me. I have continued to love Alexie’s writing. He’s one of those authors that I forget I love as much as I do until I sit down and start reading. Then, it’s four hours later, and I’m almost done with the book. He even makes me like short stories!
And this book. Let me put it this way: on the back of the edition I read, there’s a blurb from Neil Gaiman that says something to the effect that this book will start winning awards and start to be banned immediately. And truer words could not have been said. It won the National Book Award and has featured prominently on the most challenged books list that the ALA puts out annually.
The story follows Junior (real name Arnold), a Spokane living on the Native American reservation in eastern Washington state. Because he was born with water on the brain, he is left with physical problems that leave him weaker than many others and prone to seizures. This led to him being picked on by many other people on the reservation. He gets taken under the wing of the toughest kid on the reservation, Rowdy, and they quickly become best friends. Their friendship is rocked, though, when Junior realizes that he doesn’t want to end up in the endless cycle of no progress and dream death that characterize his experiences with his family and neighbors.
So he decides to have his family enroll him in the pretty much all-white school in town. What follows is a bildungsroman of a young man trying to find his way to unite his heritage, his old friendships, his family, and his desire for more than would typically be offered to him. The story, told in a first-person style, features numerous illustrations that characterize Junior’s quirky and humorous way of dealing with the tragedies and foibles of his life.
This book is YA, sure, but it’s really for anyone who has ever wanted more out of life. Or has felt like they don’t belong at the cool kids table. Or who knows the uneasy balancing act of mixing your heritage with your heart. it sucked me in, hook, line, and sinker, and the only thing I regret is that I didn’t read it sooner.
JMF Rating: 10/10
Oh, and if that’s not enough of an incentive to have you go read it: I burned dinner reading this book. Yes, full-on romantic comedy heroine too wrapped up in a book to be aware of the world, I scorched the hell out of some dumplings. But thank you anyways, Sherman Alexie, it was well worth it.
‘Til next time,