Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sherman Alexie: Beloved RB Author

RUN, don't walk, to read this book. Seriously, you won't regret it. I personally can't believe that it's been out for so long and that I'm finally, just now, reading it. Sherman Alexie is a Native American author from Washington state who has written several novels that have been included in the curriculum at RB: Flight, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Flight is also this year's Summer Reading requirement for seniors not taking AP Lit.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the heartbreakingly hilarious (hilariously heartbreaking?) story of Arnold Spirit, Jr., or "Junior" for short. Junior is a 14 year old Native American kid growing up on a reservation just outside of Spokane, WA (just like Alexie himself). The novel is told from Junior's perspective and is accompanied by cartoonist Ellen Forney's fantastic illustrations of characters or events that look like they could have come straight out of a diary:

Like many others on the reservation, several of Junior's family members are alcoholics, live in poverty, and struggle with depression and hopelessness. Junior, however, has managed to hold onto hope for a better life, and with that, he announces that he will no longer be attending the high school on the "rez" but will be transferring to Reardan, the rich, white high school in a nearby farm town. This leads to his ostracism from the tribe, as he is seen as rejecting his Indian family in favor of the white world. The white students, however, also don't fully accept him because he's not like them, either, so Junior ends up being caught between two worlds. He loses a best friend, gains a "translucent semi-girlfriend", and is hit with two family tragedies during his first year at Reardan.

What I loved about this novel is that the tragedies of Junior's life and the real problems faced by Native Americans today are not hidden; in fact, I feel like they are laid bare for all to witness and understand. Alexie's writing style is so witty, however, and and his observations are so poignant, that the story is NOT a downer. It is actually the perfect balance of humor and outrage, hope and despair. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has absolutely been one of the best books I've read this year. 4 out of 4 Bananas!

Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Award 2011 Nominee