Saturday, May 29, 2010

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

In looking for good books about the Native American experience, my friend Sam introduced me to Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian from the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. This Young Adult novel is written as the memoir, complete with hilarious illustrations, of Arnold Spirit, Jr. ("Junior"). Junior, born with water on the brain and different enough from his peers to merit constant teasing, is certain that he needs to do something to get off the reservation. And so he makes the courageous decision to attend an wealthy all-white high school off the reservation. Somewhat autobiographical, Junior explores his frienship on the reservation with Rowdy, the son of an abusive alcoholic, as well as his own incredible accomplishments on the basketball court (which at times makes one question the truth-telling of the narrator). Junior falls in love with a white girl, misses his sister who has run off to get married in Montana, and continually seeks to find his identity between two worlds - both in which he is seen by everyone as the other. Through humor, Alexie portrays all the heartache of growing up on the reservation - all of the difficulties faced by Native American youth, and the effects of hundreds of years of oppression at the hands of the United States government. I read this book in a one hour sitting, though it's one that I think I will probably go back to pick apart more slowly later. Amazing on so many levels - but a particularly fabulous example of how insightful and powerful young adult fiction can be.

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