Monday, September 27, 2010

Tahleen reviews: "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie

Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2009
Where I got it: I bought it from Barnes & Noble.

Rating: ★★★★★

Arnold "Junior" Spirit has lived on the Spokane Indian Reservation for his whole life, all 14 years of it. But he knows he needs to get out or he'll never make it out of there alive. His only other option? To transfer to Reardan High School, 22 miles outside the rez and full of white people.

Junior's got a lot to deal with. He's the only Indian in this strange new place (aside from the school mascot) with strange new rules. He has to deal with being shunned by his own people, who accuse him of being a traitor to his tribe. And he has to deal with major life changes and tragedy, all while trying to just make it from one day to the next.

Alexie examines serious issues like alcoholism, death, racism and poverty, yet still manages to be funny throughout. Junior gets through everything with as positive an attitude as he can and is able to make the most depressing situations humorous. It's often gallows humor, yes, but it's still laugh-out-loud funny. Junior talks to his audience in a very conversational and familiar tone, creating a kinship with the reader.

Of course, there are many heartbreaking moments that just bleed grief—Junior won't come right out and say what happens at first, but will ease the reader into it, sometimes giving them a shock in the process. His pain is palpable and you can almost hear him wail in mourning behind his written words and cartoons. Yet he's always able to pick himself up and move on, bringing back his unique perspective on the life he was given and the life he chooses for himself.

Junior's cartoons throughout (the work of Ellen Forney) add an extra-textual element that greatly enhances Junior's narration. It often makes the tone light, yet communicates pain and fear through this lightness, creating a complex and more complete story. It also provides us with a little more insight into Junior's mind and the way he sees the world.

This book is largely autobiographical, as Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and transfered to the nearby white high school. Wellpinit and Reardan are real places, and Alexie pays them homage in his dedication. Because this is based on fact, Alexie's depictions of life on a reservation can be trusted—not many teens are aware of what that's like even though it should be taught to them (I learned quite a bit too). Alexie provides an honest and blunt picture for his readers; it's presented in a light-hearted fashion, yet retains a sadness that tends to stay with you.

This book has been banned earlier this month, on a side note. I am very upset and saddened by this, especially considering that the objections focus on the swearing and the mentions of masturbation and a few other sexual insinuations (though nothing is ever described in detail). I don't believe these to be good reasons to ban a book in a high school—those kids already know what masturbation is, sorry to break it to you. Missing out on such a wonderful and relevant book is a shame—it teaches about multicultural issues and things going on in our country right now, not to mention it deals with subjects that should be addressed in a classroom setting. It will open up discussion and bring up things that are often swept under the proverbial rug.

20 comments :

  1. I've been wanting to read this for the longest time!! I'll have to bump this up on the TBR list.

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  2. I was so sickened to hear that this book was banned in a number of school districts. We're only ever really taught about Native Americans in a historical context -- they fade out of our textbooks and lectures soon after the Westward Migration-- and Alexie is one of the few writers willing/able to take a brutally honest approach to the modern 'Indian' experience. I think every student should be required to read this book (or his equally brilliant novel Reservation Blues!).. the fact that it's banned instead is just depressing

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  3. I have had this on my owned-TBR forever, but I do plan to read it this week.

    This review rocks, Tahleen. But it also breaks my heart to hear about how ATDOFPTI was banned.

    Also, how the hell do you not know about sex and masturbation at the high school level? ESPECIALLY if you have the internet at home or ride the bus to school? Or sit in the cafeteria for lunch. SRSLY.

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  4. Heh, I just reviewed this today on my own journal. My thoughts pretty much echo yours.

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  5. I've always wanted to read this, but the fact that it has now been banned really makes me want to read it.

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  6. I like this story being suplemented with illustrations!

    I've read a lot of Native American literature and there is always a theme of very rich, real pain... so I can believe this story has it in spades.

    It sounds like a wonderful book, and I'll have to look into it!

    New follower here too, :)

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  7. I love this book. It got me out of a long time reading slump earlier in the year. I hadn't found anything really good to read when someone recommended this book to me. I'm so glad they did. I haven't read any more Sherman Alexie yet, but I plan to.

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  8. I definitely feel like I've been missing out by not reading this one, I'll make sure to snag a copy next time I go book shopping!

    Awesome review!

    Here from CEP :)

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  9. Wonderful review! Thanks for sharing, especially during banned books week. I'm definitely picking this one up. CEP
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

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  10. Yayyy! Wow, I'm so happy you've reviewed this book! Tahleen, you're reviews are so well written and thorough, seriously, I love them! Thanks for bringing this book to the attention of your readership. It is such a shame that it was banned. I think that for many native americans, it is important that some of the issues they face be recognized as legitimate issues that need attention, rather than just being thrown into a general stereotype.
    Thanks Tahleen~

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  11. Thanks everyone, and thanks Ingrid, glad you like my reviews! :)

    For all of you who don't have a copy yet, I'm going to put up a giveaway (as well as this review) of this on my blog, Tahleen's Mixed-Up Files, tomorrow.

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  12. Nothing will get teenagers to read like the promise of vulgarity :)

    http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

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  13. I've been wanting to read this one for a while and I didn't realize it is/was being banned. Great review, I'll definitely have to get to it soon!

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  14. I am teaching this book right now and my students are loving it. It is laugh-out-loud funny! And, I highly recommend the audiobook version. It's read by Mr. Alexie. Brilliant.

    Here from the CEP.

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  15. I adore this book. One of our English teachers has had great success getting his reluctant readers to read by using this book. My husband says that the book wouldn't be genuine if the character, an adolescent male, didn't swear or masturbate. It is hilarious to hear Alexie read it. I agree with Mrs. DeRaps.

    I'm blogging all week about Banned books, too. I hope that your top ten this week will have something to do with Banned Books. hint-hint!

    Anne

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  16. Anne--We had already posted last week what the TTT would be for this week and thought of doing a BBW Top Ten Tuesday too late! Bad planning on my part! Next year we will definitely be doing something for BBW!

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  17. For those of you who are interested, the review and giveaway are now up on my blog! http://tahleenreads.blogspot.com/2010/09/review-absolutely-true-diary-of-part.html

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  18. I love Junior and Alexie and all that is this book. So sad that everyone doesn't see its true worth.

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  19. I listened to the audio of this, read by Sherman Alexie. It was phenomenal!

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  20. This is the third gushing review I read about this book in the last ten days, I am hoping to read it soon, it sounds so good!

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