The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Banned Books Week)

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
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.

I started reading this book last weekend, and before I knew it, I had turned a lot of pages. The narrator, Junior, has a magnetic voice that was hard to ignore. He joked a lot and knew how to look at the sunny side of things, even when he was sad. And yet during those sad times, if I looked closely, I could see the sadness that was splitting him, the sadness that he was struggling to express. Junior's life is no cakewalk. He has a family that appears to be falling apart, which is no news in the reservation, where every family has deep cracks in its facade and foundation. The kids all carry the anger of their generations on their shoulders, the parents drink most of the time, and education doesn't have any importance. To top it, they hate Whites and renounce any association with them. Of course, the Whites don't like them any better.

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.


40 comments:

Giving Reading said...

I remember looking at this book and in the last moment deciding against it and going for Karen White's book ( which I do not feel bad about) but it was a hard decision ( like all the ones related to which book to buy and which to not). 
I know next time I am on a book -buying spree this will top my list :)
Thanks for a great review, and I myself do not know why any book is banned either.

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I loved this book and I'm pretty sure it's somewhat autobiographical.  It's been a while since I read it, but wasn't there some sexuality in it?  That scares people and would probably cause it to be banned.

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I loved this book! It's a book that will remain on my shelves forever, and I will introduce to my future children. As a Native American, I can relate in so many ways. I loved your review!

Juju @ Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Sounds really excellent. I've been wanting to read this one for ages. 

zibilee said...

I have read so many great reviews of this book, and Kathy sent it to me awhile back. I need to read this one, because although it does sound sad, it also sounds as if there is a lot of introspection and emotion in there as well, and I can't imagine that Junior wouldn't be a great protagonist to read about. This review was simply lovely, and I loved it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the book with us today!

Ti said...

Wow, I have known about this book forever but it never appealed to me before reading your review. This sounds like it would be a hard read. As you said, it has that sad humor that makes it difficult. Plus, anyone who has a kid in middle-school or high school knows how tough it can be for teens to fit in these days...and that's not even factoring in race or beliefs.

Lenasledgeblog.com said...

Wonderful review. I had seen this book on quite a few must read list for banned book week. Glad I got a review of it so now I have a glimpse of what everyone else sees in it that's so great. I'm wondering if this would be a good read for middle grade reader?

Celawerd said...

I have not heard of this book but it sounds great.

Helen Murdoch said...

I think this is a wonderful book, especially since it is based on the author's own life. It's a tough sell to teenagers, but the ones I convince end up liking it

c b said...

This one is on my TBR list... which is growing way too long!! Is this too YA-ish? Most YA books disappoint me (because I feel too old for them :) christa @ mental foodie

Aarti Nagaraju said...

I loved this one!  Junior was such a great narrator- funny, kind and very ambitious.  I have many more Alexie books on my list to read now!

Meg @ write meg! said...

I've seen this one around quite a few times, too, and also think it sounds like something I would like -- but haven't gotten around to grabbing it yet. Must get it soon!

Erin said...

I'm so happy you liked this one! I listened to it a while back and was enthralled. Alexie reads the audio himself, and his voice/reading style are as unique and quirky as Junior is. It was a perfect match! I don't get why this one was banned, either. But then, most excellent books seem to be at least challenged at some point, so I guess I'm not surprised!

Katy F. said...

I loved this book as well. I'd guess that the short section on masturbation probably got some parents up in arms, even though it's a short section and pretty realistic for teenage boys from what I've been told by my hubby.

Too bad they focus on that, because this book is particularly honest and moving.

ShelleyBookClutter said...

I loved this book mostly because at the end of it I felt good.  I was entertained, I laughed, I cried.  I think sometimes cliches can be somehow comforting rather than annoying, and in this case it worked out okay.
So weird that I've never visited your blog until now.  I love it! 

MedeiaSharif said...

This has been sitting on my desk forever.  I want to read it soon.  I don't want to let another year pass without opening it since it sounds so amazing. 

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you get your hands on this book. I will be looking forward to your thoughts!

Athira / Aths said...

I was wondering if this book was autobiographical by any chance, because the sense of "I" in the book was very strong. I felt like someone was telling me his life story. There was some amount of sexuality in it, which is why it has been banned - silly because it was nothing that ohmygodly/

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! So glad to hear that it is a book you can relate to! 

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you get a chance to read it. I will be looking for your thoughts. 

Athira / Aths said...

You're welcome! This book was simply amazing! There is a genuine voice through the book and the narrator is really an admirable one!

Athira / Aths said...

It definitely has a lot of sadness but it wasn't an overwhelming read by any chance. Most of the time, I was laughing (and feeling guilty about it). Sometimes, he starts with a joke that slowly becomes a sad introspection. Those were such beautiful passages! 

Athira / Aths said...

I don't think this book would be appropriate for a middle grader. High-schooler, sure. There is some amount of sexuality and masturbation talk in it - which is the main reason it was banned, so I guess it depends on whether you would feel comfortable sharing that with a middle-grader.

Athira / Aths said...

It was! I hope you give it a try.

Athira / Aths said...

I can imagine that this might be a difficult book to recommend. I had a lot of difficulty writing my review, plus I remember I wasn't too keen on reading this book initially, but I loved it so much eventually!

Athira / Aths said...

This book ism't YA-ish at all! I don't know which book to compare it to, but I never once felt cheesy or cringy while reading this, which are my usual reactions to a lot of YA books. I have a feeling you will enjoy it!

Athira / Aths said...

I can't wait to pick more of Alexie's books now! This one was really wonderful!

Athira / Aths said...

You should! I can't wait to read more of his books!

Athira / Aths said...

I would love to listen to that book, though I might miss the pictures. Still, I can imagine the narrator's voice would be so much more authentic on audio.

Athira / Aths said...

I agree - it's really sad that of all the gems in the book, the book burners chose to focus on the masturbation section. Silly, considering it's not a weird thing for the narrator's age.

Athira / Aths said...

You said it perfectly! I went through all the emotions as I read this one. It was such a perfect read!

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you give it a try soon! It's a really fast read too. I was also initially reluctant to read this, but eventually I loved it! 

Sheila (Book Journey) said...

I read this last year for Banned Book week and loved it. 

Athira / Aths said...

It's a really wonderful book. I'm glad I read it!

Ash said...

I loved this book! I read it over the summer and like you said, it was hard to not keep reading. I'm pretty sure I read it during a readathon and it was such a smooth reading experience. 

Athira / Aths said...

This is just the perfect book for any readathon! It's not fluff. It packs a lot of emotions. And it's a fast and entertaining read!

Care said...

This might be one of my top 5 books if I ever were to make a list.   I thought it extremely well-done.

Athira / Aths said...

It certainly is very well-written. I loved how he wrote the more emotional parts - usually starting with humor and slowly becoming woeful-sounding. Impressive!

Leeswammes said...

We've got this book at home, from the library, as my two sons have been reading it. They read it at train speed. It sounds like I should rad the book myself before returning it to the library.

I chose the book for them, because I had heard about it before, although I couldn't quite remember what it was about. My sons are 12 and 14 but if you enjoyed it too, it's obviously also interesting for adults.

Athira / Aths said...

I'm sure you will enjoy it too. I don't typically read much YA books, because I find it hard to relate, but this one was well-done.