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

Absolutely-True-Story-of-a-Part-time-Indian The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

I originally bought this book because it was mentioned somewhere as a banned book.  That always piques my interest.

This National Book Award winner is the story of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a fourteen-year old Spokane Indian living with his family on a reservation in Washington.  Born with hydrocephalus which resulted in numerous medical and physical problems, Junior is an outcast even among his own people.  He becomes even more so when he decides to leave the “rez” – at least partially – to attend an all white school in a neighboring town, where he hopes to receive a better education and more opportunities.  There, he finds himself in a strange in-between – seen as a traitor by the Indians on the rez (where he still lives with his family), and as an outcast at the all-white high school (where racism is rampant and the school mascot is – wait for it … an Indian).  Over time, however, he makes a place for himself in his new school and earns the respect and friendship of his fellow students.

I have such mixed feelings about this book.  I can definitely see the appeal it holds for teens.  The story, which includes entertaining artwork, boldly touches on masturbation, bulimia, and taking a crap at school, among many other things.  It sheds a harsh light on the poverty, alcoholism, and tragedy rampant on Indian reservations, and frankly, serves as one more example that makes me feel ashamed to be a white American.  On the other hand, I had a hard time sympathizing with Junior because he really is pretty obnoxious.  I would have hoped that his disabilities would serve to make him more compassionate, but he unapologetically ridicules other people for their looks or intelligence.  There is also a passage in the early part of the story that stung:

” … you’re still fairly cute when you’re a stuttering and lisping six-, seven-, and eight-year-old, but it’s all over when you turn nine and ten.

“After that, your stutter and lisp turn you into a retard.

“And if you’re fourteen years old, like me, and you’re still stuttering and lisping, then you’ve become the biggest retard in the world.

“Everybody on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day.  They call me retard when they are pantsing me or stuffing my head in the toilet or just smacking me upside the head.”

I don’t know.  I’m really unsure if this was meant to convey disdain for bullies, or for “retards.”  Again, a person can be a lot of things, but the line is drawn at being “retarded.”  Nobody likes a retard, yo.

Sigh.

I really don’t know if Alexie means to make some social statement, or just entertain.  I do know that his stories have stirred up negative reactions among Indians, many of whom call him a sell-out.  This novel is apparently a faithfully rendered but somewhat fictionalized account of Alexie’s own upbringing on the Spokane Reservation.

Read it and decide for yourself.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

9780525478812_custom-7eb6cc16a8a3f2266865895e1718ac9e9d6232e0-s6-c30 The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

A friend of mine on Goodreads posted the following review of this book:

“Wow.”

I have to agree.  Wow.

The Fault In Our Stars is a novel about cancer, and dying, and being young, and being in love.  It’s a novel about being young and in love while also dying of cancer.  Somehow, though, it manages to not be smarmy or sappy or overly sentimental, while still yanking on your heartstrings.

Narrated by sixteen-year old Hazel who has been hanging on for three years with terminal cancer, she tells of meeting seventeen-year old Augustus, amputee and in remission from his own cancer, at a youth cancer support group.  The two hit it off immediately and quickly become nearly inseparable.  At the heart of the story is their shared love of a (fictional) book entitled An Imperial Affliction – a novel about a teenage girl with terminal cancer.   As the book ends abruptly, leaving both Hazel and Augustus frustrated, they use a Genie wish (wishes granted to terminally ill kids, much like the real-life Make A Wish Foundation) to travel to Amsterdam to meet the author of AIA in the hopes of getting some answers.  While their meeting with the author turns out to be a huge disappointment, their trip to Amsterdam cements their romantic relationship.  But, of course, tragedy is right around the corner.

I loved, loved, loved this book.  Knowing that cancer plays a major role, I wasn’t sure I would like it despite the glowing reviews, if only because my husband is in remission from cancer (four and a half years now!), and reading or hearing about cancer still touches a raw spot for me.  The author does a fabulous job telling the story from a teenage girl’s point of view – I’m always impressed when writers are able to so believably write as the opposite sex.  Profound, witty, and yes, tragic, this book asks big questions, and ultimately is as much about being alive as it is about dying.

And it’s going to be a movie!