Monday, November 18, 2013

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

Our next book group book is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It’s been on my I-should-really-read-this list for a long time, but it wasn’t something I particularly wanted to read. I’m glad our book group chose it, because I enjoyed it much more than I expected.

Junior is an Indian growing up on a reservation in Spokane, Washington, where poverty, alcoholism, and violence are the norm. He is further disadvantaged by having been born with hydrocephalus and a seizure disorder, so he refers to his brain as damaged. However, there is no evidence of that. He’s the smartest kid in his school and a good (coordinated) basketball player. Still, he tells us that he stutters and lisps and wears lopsided glasses. Being skinny and awkward in appearance, he’s a natural target.

Despite the many disadvantages of his situation, Junior cannot be kept down. He wants to be a cartoonist (examples included), and he allows himself to dream. When a teacher tells him that there is no hope on the reservation so he has to leave before he is trapped like everyone else, Junior decides to transfer to an all-white school in a neighboring town.

Junior’s adolescent male observations on life, love, alcohol abuse, education, basketball, friendship, and true tragedy make this a touching and painful story, but also a hopeful and, at times, a funny one. Junior has a way of bringing out the good in people–sometimes it takes a while, but if there is good, it’ll work its way out. Unfortunately, while there may be an optimistic end in sight for Junior, the overall picture of the reservation life and the people he must leave behind remains bleak. And because it shows us that picture, too, this is an important book.

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