Everybody on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day. They call me retard when they are pantsing me or stuffing my head in the toilet or just smacking me upside the head.
I'm not even writing down this story the way I actually talk, because I'd have to fill with stutters and lisps, and then you'd be wondering why you're reading a story written by such a retard.
Do you know what happens to retards on the rez?
We get beat up.
At least once a month.
Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club.
Budding cartoonist Arnold Spirit, better known as Junior, was born with too much fluid in the brain, or water or grease, as he likes to explain. He is regularly picked on, even by guys 30 years older to him. But his best friend Rowdy saves him from all the bullying and even gives the bullies some of his own blows in retaliation. Now Junior wants to leave the troubled school that he attends on the reservation and instead join the all-white farm school where there are no Indians, barring the school mascot. His decision isn't received well by anyone but his own parents. His fellow Indians have almost ostracized him, his best friend isn't talking to him anymore, and the students at his new school are either vividly staring at him, completely ignoring him or laughing at him. To make matters worse, his ambitious writer-wannabe sister has quit school and moved to the basement of their house, refusing to get out of the house. And now Junior's trying to get his life in order.
I've been seeing The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian around for quite a while. Each time I come across a review of the book, I am intrigued but then a short while later, I forget about it. I remember it was Sheila's review that first introduced me to this book and convinced me that I had to (someday) read it. Banned Books Week was just the perfect excuse for me to finally read this book and join the club of those who read and raved about this title. Both the cover and the title of the book screamed out quirkiness.
So it was no surprise that when Junior joins the white school, the Indians have given up on him and go out of their way to ignore him. Junior walks into his new school expecting to be bashed right from the word go. He associates huge basketball players with bullying and when a potential fight turns in a direction he didn't at all expect, he begins to revisit his beliefs and assumptions.
My first impression of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was that this book is freaking funny albeit in a self-deprecating manner, the saddest kind of humor. It is also very innocent and has a thread of melancholy underlining the humor. Junior is disappointed with the low-class status invisibly meted out to the Indians on the reservation, but he doesn't get all preachy on the reader. He is intelligent enough to understand that there is a lot of racism against the Indians but that the Indians he know don't strive to improve their situation either. He wants his best friend to join him, but cannot even get him to talk to him. Worse, a lot of tragic things do happen and each time, Junior felt broken but mans up. I felt terribly sad for Junior but proud of him for how he handled the events.
I did feel though that too many things were going wrong for him. And at some point, it felt cliched, though Junior does say that the reservation has a high probability of tragedy. Other than this minor issue, I found the book a wonderful read. There were a lot of illustrations scattered through the book. Junior occasionally shared his thoughts on a lot of matters via cartoons. He also drew illustrations of the people he knew and shared some part of their personality. I loved these pictures, because they were really funny, even when they were not meant to be.
I don't get why this book is even banned. Well, I don't get why any book is banned, but this is a book that speaks teen angst in a non-Holden manner, and also has a lot of teen problems covered. Sure, there are a few profanities, and some sexual references, but nothing out of the ordinary in a teenager's world for this book to deserve a spot on the pyre. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was also a really quick and fun read, with a protagonist one would find hard not to like.
I borrowed this book from my library.