Monday, March 10, 2008

the Absoluely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Pick up The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie at your peril. Once you meet 14 year old Junior Spirit who is as smart and artistic as he is medically challenged, once you meet his parents and his sister Mary Runs Away, once you get to know his best friend the fiercely protective Rowdy, once you enter the Spokane Indian Reservation and you experience the grinding poverty, the alcoholism, and an indestructible sense of Indian identity that has survived despite all the effort white men have put into pulverizing it, you will be hooked.

Junior Spirit, an off-beat, smart 14-year-old budding Indian cartoonist, makes a decision that changes his life and the lives of those around him when he decides to leave the Rez school for the sake of getting a good education. Accused of being an apple (red on the outside and white on the inside), he expects beatings, abuse and loneliness both on and off the Rez. What he doesn't expect is to find the sort of inner strength that his grandmother might be proud of had she not been killed in a hit and run by a drunken Indian. Nor does he expect to outplay his former best friend on the basketball court or to discover that he would always love and miss his best friend, his reservation and his tribe.

In the hands of a less able author, Junior's experience at the all-white school whose only other Indian is the school mascot, might have been predictable. But the integrity, honesty, insecurities and wit Spirit displays even in the face of terrible tragedy make you want to root for him when he is heaving before a basketball game or trying to hide an inappropriate boner.

This heartbreakingly honest and wildly funny story is possibly one of the best coming of age novels written since Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. The Absolutely True diary of a Part-Time Indian is Sherman Alexie's first foray into the YA world. I so hope he decides to give us more.

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