Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part-Time_IndianI should just cut this review short, and tell you to drop everything you are doing, and go out and buy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, right now. Seriously. Put down your coffee, go to you favorite bricks-and-mortar book retailer or on-line e-reader supplier, and get this book.

Quite simply, this is one of the best Young Adult books I have ever read.

I’m not the only one who thinks this book is good.  It won a National Book Award, along with a couple of dozen other awards and acclimations.

The story is told from the point of view of Arnold Spirit, Jr., an American Indian growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Eastern Washington. Junior, as he is called, doesn’t mince words. He’s had a hard life, and doesn’t have time to paint a rosy picture of life on the reservation. His father is an alcoholic. His best friend has anger issues. And Junior was born with a myriad of physical issues in and around his abnormally large head. Life is not easy for any boy on the reservation, and damn near impossible for a boy in Junior’s condition.

Junior, however, gets some sage advice from a very unexpected source. Get out. Leave the reservation. Do it while he still can. He’s smart, and he could do so much better, but only if he leaves his friend and his family behind and takes a long, daily trip to a very good school off the reservation. The trip splits Junior between two worlds: the racist world of the whites in the school, and the bitter world of the reservation which treats him as a traitor to his people.

It’s an amazing story. It pulls no punches, and is told with such brutal honesty in covering everything from alcoholism to masturbation to sex to drugs to racism, that it was briefly banned by the Richland, Washington School Board. Some parents expressed concern that such a book should not be read by their children.

What’s ironic about this type of attitude towards this book is that the one word that kept coming to mind as I read this book was ‘tolerance’. Tolerance of other races, of other people’s religious beliefs and circumstances, and their backgrounds. It made me question a lot of what I think, and especially what I fear. To have a book that took less than three hours to read have such a profound impact is remarkable.

This is one of those books that changes everything. Perhaps not in my life, but in my appreciation of what a good book can, and should, be. It’s one of those that I look at, and think “I could never write like that.” It can take the wind of a writer’s sails, reading something this good. I can only compare it to the feeling I had the day I saw Saving Private Ryan for the first time. I didn’t watch another movie for weeks after that one. What was the point? Saving Private Ryan had been profound and perfect.

Writing, after reading this book, will be hard. I’m a little afraid of going up against books like this when my books are published. How do you compete with this? My answer is that I don’t. People don’t stop reading because they’ve read a great book. People read more because they’ve read a great book, and perhaps I can ride Sherman’ Alexies’ coat-tails to just a little bit of fame and fortune. I can’t imitate his work, and I wouldn’t want to. But I sure can appreciate it.

Go out. Get this book. Read it. Let your teenagers read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Joe’s Note 2/16/2012: I know this is odd, but someone in Saint Paul, MN visits this post multiple times per day. I’m glad they like it, but would love to know why they come back so often. Anyone? Are people being redirected here from an external site? My curiousity is killing me.

One Comment on “Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

  1. Agreed. A wonderful book.

    In terms of writing, the two things I most appreciated about it are:

    1) He shows the Right Way* to do a novel that’s composed of linked short stories. I’ve read only a few such books, because usually I can’t stand them. They’re too fragmented, too dissociated from themselves, to sustain their narrative. Even award winners like _Olive Kitteridge_. Why, Pulitzer Prize Committee, why? But somehow, Alexie pulls it off. Wonderful stuff.

    2) Aside from being lovely, the writing was, I don’t know, something I can only describe as some kind of freaky literary jujitsu. It felt like being given only half a metaphor, and yet still somehow having the feeling at the end of it of having grasped the meaning of the entire metaphor while simultaneously not being able to quite articulate what that meaning was. So, if one is looking for an example of a book with a strong message that manages not to beat the reader over the head with that message, this would be a good one to pick apart.

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