Sherman Alexie’s The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian portrays more than just one boy’s freshman year in high school. It embodies life on a reservation (a.k.a. rez) and what it is like growing up as a dirt poor Native American attending an all-white school.
While I love Stephen Chboksy’s The perks of being a wallflower, Alexie’s wins out because the story speaks for a minority people whose voice is rarely heard, or conveyed more eloquently. Both novels are amazing and pair well together, since they each follow a boy through his first year of high school and the awful struggles that life throws in the way. Charlie and Arnold, respectively, lose their best friends and wade through life trying to make do and be as normal as possible despite the huddles they must over come. By the end, the novels reach hope filled outlooks but getting to that point is heartbreaking and difficult. Written especially with a male audience in mind, the stories are great for anyone and everyone–if you don’t mind the occasional bathroom humor joke or boner reference. There aren’t enough books in the world that a young man, or an older one, can pick up and relate to; these both make the cut and should be encouraged more to be read.
This book, along with State of wonder by Ann Patchett and 100 years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, jumped out at me the last time I was in Barnes & Noble. I haven’t read Sherman Alexie before but he’s always been one of those writers on my list, since I had this perception of him as an amazing author who I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. Now, I am not sure why I waited so long. He is certainly a new favorite of mine.
The format of this novel is a combination between a diary and a graphic novel. Ellen Forney drew the illustrations throughout the work. They are part of the story, as if Arnold had doodled and taped in drawings to his journal as he was writing. A majority is text, keeping it firmly in the realm of the a novel but the illustrations make it feel more authentic for a high school boy and add a depth and value to the story itself, along with humor.
Growing up in Minnesota, learning history about the Sioux in the St. Peter area and visiting the trading post with school groups, Native Americans interested me greatly from an early age. During college I took anthropology and history courses about different tribes and people, however, it was a documentary about Pine Ridge, South Dakota that truly opened my eyes to the hardships and poverty of modern reservation life, and while fighting against it is hard, it is possible. This novel also conveys that.
Recommended? Absolutely. It’s a fairly quick read, though the powerful emotions here and there slowed me down a bit. I savor and dwell in the passages in which authors have moved me so that I personally feel what their character does. Not all writers can achieve this, even if they attempt it. Alexie is one of those amazing writers who can and does. Beyond the coming-of-age, Indian hardships, and young adult aspects, The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian is about family and friendship at its core. No matter who you are, there is something in this novel for you.
I can’t wait to read more by him! For now, though, I have enough to get through still on my bookshelf.