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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Alexie's YA debut, released in hardcover to instant success, recieving seven starred reviews, hitting numerous bestseller lists, and winning the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
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||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
||April 01, 2009|
|Average Customer Rating:
|| based on 447 reviews|
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139 of 149 found the following review helpful:
The Worst Thing About Being PoorOct 02, 2007
By James Horswill
"Do you know the worst thing about being poor?" asks Junior Spirit at the beginning of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." It's not hunger, he insists. "Sure, sometimes my family misses a meal, and sleep is the only thing we have for dinner, but I know that, sooner or later, my parents will come busting through the door with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken."
Then Junior tells us the worst thing about being poor, and it will break your heart.
"Diary" is a novel for young adults by Sherman Alexie. It tells the story of a 14-year-old Indian who goes off the rez to attend Reardan, an all-white school. A more pedestrian writer would have his protagonist leave the reservation entirely, but Junior continues to live there with his parents, and he comes to fear that he no longer belongs in either world.
Junior aspires to be a cartoonist, and he fills this "diary" with mordant, self-deprecating drawings. The work of Ellen Forney, they are funny and touching, and help to make the narrative credible as the work of a talented 14-year-old.
Junior's best friend is Rowdy, a sometimes violent young man who may suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. It is Rowdy who feels most betrayed by Junior's move to Reardan, and the deep rift in their relationship colors the rest of the story.
Many juvenile novels center on youthful rebellion, but while Junior's parents are deeply flawed, he understands that most of their problems stem from the crushing poverty they have endured on the reservation. The story of his sister, whom the family calls Mary Runs Away, is particularly poignant, and provides a counterpoint to her brother's success.
While most of the characters are vividly drawn, I find Junior's geeky friend Gordy a bit wooden. "Don't you hate PCs?" Gordy says. "They are sickly and fragile and vulnerable to viruses. PCs are like French people living during the bubonic plague." Even geeks don't talk that way.
Junior unexpectedly becomes a basketball star, but his spectacular performance in the "big game" comes at the expense of Rowdy and the reservation team, making him feel more traitor than hero. His struggle to resolve this conflict provides the central thrust of the story. The final scene, a twilight game of one-on-one, is only two paragraphs long, but its impact is stunning.
While billed as a "novel for young adults," "Diary" will richly reward the attention of any adult. Read it now, before Hollywood turns it into an innocuous, feel-good movie with a title like "The Little Injun that Could."
78 of 84 found the following review helpful:
I almost cried a few times and I laughed a lotOct 05, 2007
By Debra Garfinkle
"author of books for teens and children"
For a story about an impoverished teen on an Indian reservation who has an alcoholic father and faces bullies and racism and the deaths of several close relatives, I sure laughed a lot. I loved the written humor and the wonderful cartoons throughout the book, as well as learning something about life on a reservation. I finished this fast-paced book in two days and was sorry to see it end. This is one of my favorite young adult novels of 2007.
133 of 151 found the following review helpful:
Richie's Picks: THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIANSep 05, 2007
By Richie Partington
"Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a 'Tale of Two Cities' than it is just a 'Shining City on a Hill.' "
-- Mario Cuomo, 1984 National Democratic Convention Keynote Address
"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 because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it.
So opines high school student and sometime cartoonist Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, who is despondent as his father prepares to shoot Arnold's suffering dog because there is no money to pay for a veterinarian's services. But a math teacher -- whose nose is broken when Arnold, in his frustration, angrily throws his generations-old math book --endeavors to change Arnold's sense of helplessness:
" 'You can't give up. You won't give up. You threw that book in my face because somewhere inside you refuse to give up.'
"I didn't know what he was talking about. Or maybe I just didn't want to know.
"Jeez, it was a lot of pressure to put on a kid. I was carrying the burden of my race, you know? I was going to get a bad back from it.
" 'If you stay on this rez,' Mr. P said, 'they're going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. We're all going to kill you. You can't fight us forever.'
" 'I don't want to fight anybody.' I said.
" 'You've been fighting since you were born,' he said. 'You fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope.'
"I was starting to understand. He was a math teacher. I had to add my hope to somebody else's hope. I had to multiply hope by hope.
" 'Where is hope?' I asked. 'Who has hope?'
" 'Son,' Mr. P said. 'You're going to find more and more hope the farther and farther you walk away from this sad, sad reservation.' "
I'd certainly heard of Sherman Alexie. Back in my bookstore days, a young college student with whom I worked spoke of him as a god. But I'd never read any of Alexie's books since he hadn't yet written anything for children or YAs.
THE ABSOLUTE TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN is a semi-autobiographical tale by Sherman Alexie, written for teen readers, that is in turns wacked-out, funny, heartbreaking, and jubilant. It is the story of an Indian kid who has survived a precarious infancy and is growing up on a reservation outside Spokane. It is a powerful story of friendship between two teenage guys who have grown up together on the reservation. It is the story of Arnold's journey after he is persuaded by the math teacher to escape the rez school and transfer to a high school 22 miles away.
And it is a tale of two cities.
"So what was I doing in Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?"
THE ABSOLUTE TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN portrays Arnold's struggle through that ninth grade school year to succeed at the high school in Reardan, to which he often has to walk and/or hitch. It could be that Arnold's greatest struggle involves the conflict and guilt that comes from living among the Indian kids and grown-ups he's seemingly left behind on the reservation in order to attain that success.
Arnold's humorous and telling drawings (thanks to artist Ellen Forney), which are "taped" into the diary, significantly bolster the book's boy-charm and permit us to see, in a second dimension, Arnold's view of his world.
"My head was so big that little Indian skulls orbited around it. Some of the kids called me Orbit. And other kids just called me Globe. The bullies would pick me up, spin me in circles, put their finger down on my skull, and say, 'I want to go there'."
I loved hanging out in Arnold World! Sherman Alexie and his quirky, in-your-face, first-person tale of contemporary life on and off the reservation are both important and extremely welcome additions to the world of young adult literature.
31 of 34 found the following review helpful:
this novel is filled with equal parts humor and tragedy along with some memorable characters thrown in to tasteSep 02, 2007
By Miss Print
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the first book written by Sherman Alexie specifically for a young adult audience. I finished it in two days but have been holding onto my copy because I've been having a hard time articulating why I might love this book.
If you have read anything by Alexie, you know that he writes about life on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washingotn. In Reservation Blues Alexie described the misadventures of Thomas Builds-the-Fire and his friends as they try to start a band (and deal with the relative fame that follows). Like Reservation Blues, this novel is filled with equal parts humor and tragedy along with some memorable characters thrown in to taste. What surprised me about Diary is that it is also more biting that Reservation Blues. At times Alexie's descriptions of white-Indian relations and life on the rez are so scathing that they're painful to read. And yet . . . I couldn't put the book down.
Now that you are sufficiently intrigued, let's talk about the plot.
This story revolves around Arnold "Junior" Spirit, his family and his best friend, Rowdy. We join Arnold at the beginning of the novel at the age of 14. Born with a variety of physical ailments, Arnold is used to being picked on. He doesn't mind, though, because he knows he has his art and his intelligence and his family. Things get complicated for Arnold when he realizes that he has to leave the reservation in order to get a good education and succeed where most of his family and friends have failed. So Arnold starts going to the all-white school in a neighboring all-white town.
As the story progresses, Arnold grapples with his decision and trying to figure out his identity in his new surroundings. With the additions of love, rivalry, and basketball Alexie has enough twists to keep the most impatient readers enthralled. The illustrations by Ellen Forney also really add to the text.
In Reservation Blues and some of his other works, Alexie brings up the issue of alcoholism and heavy drinking on the reservation. The subject comes up again here. I can't say that I understand heavy drinking as a past time in general-it remains equally perplexing here. At the same time, Alexie aptly shows the damage that one too many bottles of . . . whatever . . . can cause, which is part of why I think this novel is really important.
But you won't be reading this book just because I happen to think it's important. No. I expect that you will find yourself charmed by Arnold and his unique outlook on life and opportunity. I know I did.
Like Alexie's other writing, this book is poetic and beautiful but still razor sharp.
When I finished reading, I didn't know what to say-so much so that I wanted to immediately re-read it. (It's the kind of book that you can do that with.) I think that's the best response you can have to a book: when it's so good it leaves you speechless.
48 of 55 found the following review helpful:
Part-Time Lover of Part-Time IndianMar 30, 2008
By J. L. Porter
Filled with Alexi's trademark beautiful and straightforward prose, Part-Time Indian tells the story of Arnold, a Spokane Indian trying to better his life beyond the confines of his race and his circumstance. This is a moving story filled with wonderful storytelling moments and thrilling scenes. While I finished the book wanting more, which is a good thing, although I also felt that some of the most interesting aspects of Arnold's character (dealing with his disability, his physical "difference" from kids in his new school, his determination to get beyond the rez, his being an artist, etc.) were dropped in favor of a tidier conclusion. In the end, the book leaves us centering on his relationship to his best friend, his ability to move on and at the same time leave the reservation behind. However effective the symbolism, I wanted more in the way of Arnold's coming of age. This is a gratifying read, in part because there are such beautiful moments, but I prefer books in which the character details affect the narrative more powerfully. Arnold is a fascinating character, and I felt that he was reduced, simplified by the end's tidy message. This may be knit-picking, but although I love Ellen Forney, I thought the "voice" of the cartoons was not exactly in sync with that of the main character. The cartoons are very clever and they add to the humor in this otherwise very funny book, but they felt like they were authored by someone other than Arnold.
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