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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Book review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Author: Sherman Alexie
Rating: 3/5
Challenge: YA Reading Challenge

A few days after finishing this book, I’m still not sure if I completely like it or not. On the plus side, there were a lot of great elements to this book: funny and insightful writing, and a memorable main character, Arnold Spirit. Arnold lives on the Spokane Indian reservation along with his sister and his parents, draws cartoons (interspersed throughout the book), and writes his observations on life on rez. Towards the beginning of the book, Arnold explains in a very matter of fact way what his life is like:

“…we reservation Indians don’t get to realize our dreams. We don’t get those chances… We’re just poor… It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly vicious cycle and there’s nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”

Arnold has mostly accepted his life as what it is, but when he gets to his first day of high school and realizes that his geometry book is at least 30 years older than him, he gets so mad about the unfairness of it that he throws the book at his teacher. To his surprise, his teacher comes over to encourage him to get out of the rez so that he doesn't become hopeless like everyone else around him. Arnold decides to follow that advice and enrolls immediately in Reardon High School. The rest of the book chronicles his freshman year at Reardon.

While Arnold sticks out at first, he eventually makes friends, joins the basketball team, and falls in love with a beautiful classmate. The book is both funny and serious as Arnold deals with being labeled a traitor by everyone else on the rez (including his best friend), an alcoholic father, losing his grandmother and a family friend for alcohol-related reasons, and even more losses as the book goes on.

Stripping this book down, it is about an outcast who finds a way to fit in. That storyline has been done before. As impressive and profound as some of the writing is in the book (like the passage above), other parts felt flat and preachy. I wanted it to not end so neatly, every little end tied up. I wanted all of the minor characters to ring true. So to sum it up, I enjoyed this book but I wanted more out of it.


Kim L said...

I realized this morning that I had mistyped the title of this book. "The Absolutely True Diary", not "The Absolutely True Story". I really did read the book, I promise. I think the title was just too long for my brain.

Andi said...

I've heard many of the same sentiments from my varios reading buddies in real life and online. I think I'll pass on this book for now, but I might pick up something else of Alexie's at some point. He seems to be the YA lit "it" guy right now.

Kim L said...

Andi-Yes he does seem to be the "it" guy right now, and I just don't know if that book is worthy of it. Its not that it is a terrible book or anything, it just isn't quite that good.

Maw Books said...

I enjoyed this book for what we are able to take from it. Don't be scared to try to elevate yourself above your situation. Be brave and don't be scared to change. I could have done without all the sexual references though.