Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown
Fiction, YA General Fiction
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: Arnold Spirit, Jr, better known as Junior, entered this world with the odds stacked against him, and not much has improved in fifteen years. Even having survived "water on the brain", childhood epileptic seizures, and other issues, his future on the Spokane Indian Reservation can't help looking grim, with abysmal education and near-ubiquitous alcoholism and generations of poverty creating a landscape devoid of hope. When he takes a chance at a better life by transferring to a high school off the rez in the nearby (all-white) farm town of Rearden, he knows he'll be facing a challenge, but he has no idea how much hope will truly cost him - or if the sacrifice will ever be worth it.

REVIEW: Augmented with cartoon illustrations by "Junior," this award-winning tale chronicles a pivotal year in the young life of a modern Spokane Indian boy, inspired by the author's experiences on and off the rez. With humor and pain and occasionally crude language, Arnold explores not only his firsthand experience with culture clash, but what it means to reach for more when everyone around him has forgotten how to hope. It's not an easy journey: not only does he have to face racism and class issues at Rearden, being the only Native American boy in school (a school whose mascot is a stereotypical "redskin" cartoon), but his own friends and neighbors consider him a traitor to the race, attitudes encrusted by generations of poor conditions and poor prospects that are part of the reservation system. Everyone seems to know how broken it is, but nobody seems to know how to fix things, or if repairs are even possible with so many people beyond caring. Arnold has to learn to walk two worlds, learning to see the good and the bad on both sides of the reservation border in a journey fraught with victories and setbacks in abundance. It makes for a good, often amusing, and sometimes moving story of one underdog daring to challenge the low expectations the world sets before him, and the effects that challenge has on those around him.

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