Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Flashback: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Books don't have to be new to be deserving of a review! On Fridays I flashback to some of my favorite books of all-time.

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

Arnold (aka Junior) has spent his entire life on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and it hasn't been easy.  His parents are alcoholics. He lives in poverty.  He was born with "water on the brain" and now has various medical issues and physical oddities.  He is the perfect bully target.  Luckily, he has his best friend Rowdy to protect him.  He also has his diary, in which he draws and vents about all of his troubles.   Now that he's transferring to Rearden, an all-white public school off the reservation, his life is getting that much more complicated.  And funny. And sad.

Alexie does not pull any punches in this humorously honest (and semi-autobiographical) look at life on the rez and how a chance at escaping it all is harder than it looks.  The language is raw.  The comics are hilarious.  The situations he encounters are real.  And really difficult.  Several of the 8th graders at my school have read it and have absolutely* loved it.  I've watched them describe the plot to other students and say how funny it is only to receive weird/horrified looks in return, as the non-readers wonder how a book with themes of racism and bullying could be funny.  Then the non-readers become readers, and invariably recommend it to more people!

There's cursing, racism, bullying, substance abuse, death, and MASTURBATION.  Suffice it to say, there are lots of things for adults to be afraid of (when they happen to occur in books for teens). And thus, some adults have worked to ban this book (the wikipedia entry has a quick encapsulation of efforts to remove the book from school curriculum with links to articles).  My guess is they're really just afraid of the "sex" It's honest about bullying and trying to fit in, about burgeoning sexuality and self-doubt, and about everything else that happens in high school.  Teens, who are living the trials and tribulations of high school on a daily basis, take comfort in reading about someone else who can face all sorts of bad stuff and still have a sense of humor about it all.  Meanwhile, some adults (and I stress the some), get rankled by the thought that their children are mature enough to handle that type of content.  Such as it is.

*I'm sorry.  I had to do the "absolutely" pun.  You would've too.  Admit it. 

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