Title: The Absolutely True Diary
of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publication Year: 2007
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Count for Year: 39
How I discovered:
I entered an online reading challenge called 342,745 Ways To Herd Cats and the host of the challenge had it on her list. I didn’t realize it, but I also knew of Alexie from his work on the movie Smoke Signals, which was based on his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation.
Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone, but his best friend.
Determined to receive a good education, Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed.
Hands down, this is the best book I’ve read this year. I have given other 10 out of 10s in my final analysis, but this one takes the proverbial cake for having all the ingredients: comedy AND tragedy, love AND hate (“Yessirree! It’s love that’s won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!”), yadda yadda yadda. It’s got it, even words AND pictures, in the form of cartoons drawn by artist Ellen Forney.
In some ways, Arnold Spirit Jr. reminds me of the movie The Mighty, which was based on the book Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. He is a character like Max Kane, who is a little outside what is considered normal, and who has a best friend, in this case, Rowdy, who helps him overcome his “abnormality” (if that’s really what being Native American is, which I’m not saying it is, that’s why I use the quotes). Or maybe better said, what others perceive as abnormality.
Like the aforementioned movie, in which Max falls in love with books, so does Arnold with the help of one of his classmates, Gordy. What follows is a conversation between the two (sans, unfortunately one of Forney’s cartoons in the middle, but still hilarious, nonetheless):
“You read a book for the story, for each of its words,” Gordy said, “and you draw your cartoons for the story, for each of the words and images. And, yeah, you need to take that seriously, but you should also read and draw because really good books and cartoons give you a boner.”
I was shocked:
“Did you just say books should give me a boner?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah…don’t you get excited about books?”
“I don’t think that you’re supposed to get that excited about books.”
Of course, Gordy goes on to explain that he means a metaphorical boner, in that you should be excited about books.
This section is probably my favorite section in the entire book, although Alexie has many such sections that make you laugh.
However, it’s not all a barrel of sunshine either and Alexie doesn’t pull any punches on the issues that face the contemporary Native American on the reservations, especially the No. 1 “issue”: alcoholism.
All my white friends can count their deaths on one hand.
I can count my fingers, toes, arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, penis, butt cheeks, and nipples, and still not get close to the my deaths.
And you know what the worst part is? The unhappy part? About 90 percent of the deaths have been because of alcohol.
Gordy gave me this book by a Russian dude named Tolstoy who wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Well, I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn’t know Indians. And he didn’t know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reasons: the fricking booze.
Yep, so let me pour a drink for Tolstoy and let him hard about the true definition of unhappy families.
So like I said comedy AND tragedy, but in the end, love wins and hate is down for the count.
Final analysis: as if I didn’t telegraph this one: 10 out of 10. Go read this book now! Don’t wait.