Reprinted by permission of the American Library Association
This review is presented in honor of Banned Book Week.
There is a quote on the back cover of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian from Neil Gaiman which states "I have no doubt that in a year or so [the book will] both be winning award and being banned." The statement was true on both accounts, as Alexie's stellar coming of age tale has won a multitude of accolades and continues to place in the top ten of the ALA's Most Challenged Books list. An Oscar Wilde quote is very applicable to this book: "The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame."
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is Alexie's semi-autobiographical story of Arnold Spirit Junior, a Native American teen from the Spokane Indian Reservation who enrolls in the all-white high school in Reardan, Washington. Junior's experiences are brutal and joyous, tragic in their reality and beautiful in their honesty. Junior is every part a teenage boy, with a teenager's urges, mood swings, and all that comes with it. He is poor, his family is not perfect, and his best friend is crude and even mean. Indeed, it is the honesty that Alexie gives to Junior and how Junior expresses himself that causes much of the controversy over the book. Junior is a teenager as teenagers are, not the cherubic and innocent ideal that many have of the young.
Then there's the matter of race, as one could gather from the title's mention of 'Part-Time Indian'. Alexie does not shy away from matters of racism; indeed through Junior's voice he charges at it full steam ahead. Junior's experiences of being 'less' than the white kids because of his skin while simultaneously being treated as a traitor to the reservation for going to school with the white kids are just some of many illustrations of the messy nature that comes with matters of race in the book. The author touches upon the issue with insight, honesty, and experience, and the story is all the more enlightening for it.
Alexie has crafted a modern classic in the realm of teen coming-of-age tales. It reads smoothly, with character and life present in every passage. The illustrations (presented as cartoons drawn by Junior, art actually by the extremely talented Ellen Forney) add more vitality and humor while also revealing a great deal about Junior's thoughts and feelings. The book was filled with meaning and emotion, and one of the most rewarding reads I've had in a long time, I even read over half the book in one sitting, unable to put it down. While intended for a young adult audience, the book is more than suitable for older readers as well.
Tim @ Central