Monday, September 29, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

Absolutely True Diary of  Part-Time Indian just shot to the top of my favorites read so far in 2014, and got added to my list of all time favorites.  My husband even read this book in less than 24 hours, and he's not a reader. He hates to read, but he loved this book. In fact while he was reading it if I happened to ask him a question, he'd give me that glazed, "what did you say? I'm in the middle of a good book" look that I'm guilty of all the time (a couple times I think he was doing this on purpose just to give me a taste of my own medicine but a couple times I'm pretty sure it was genuine.) 
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


14 year Spokane Indian, Junior, decides to leave the rez and go to a nearby mostly-white suburban high school.  Almost everyboy on the reservation treats him like a traitor, including his best friend, Rowdy. Not everyone in his new school is that thrilled about his bid for a life with more opportunities, either. 

Junior is smart and funny and self-deprecating and scatters  hand-drawn commentaries (e.g. cartoons) in with his words. Which came first? Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian? they are remarkably similar in style (right down to all the bathroom humor. Warning: this book is full of, um, very physical humor). But Sherman Alexie's book treats a desperately serious subject with both humor and heartbreak. 

I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals. That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.

Another funny/sad example is how the Indians would get pulled over by the police for  DWI's  (Driving While Indian). But before I get to the heartbreaky parts, gotta share some of my favorite parts. 

After Junior, his friend Rowdy was my favorite. (warning: gross parts ahead)

Rowdy didn't believe in himself. Not much. So I tried to pump him up.
"You're the toughest kid on the rez," I said.
"I know," he said.
"You're the fastest, the strongest."
"And the most handsome, too."
"If I had a dog with a face like yours, I'd shave its a.. and teach it to walk backwards."
"I once had a zit that looked like you. Then I popped it. And then it looked even more like you."
"This one time, I ate, like, three hot dogs and a bowl of clam chowder, and then I got diarrhea all over the floor, and it looked like you."
"And then you ate it," Rowdy said.
We laughed ourselves silly.

Junior has a hard time making friends at his new school, but he finally falls in with Gordy. Who is a super smart nerd and gives Junior a new perspective on books that made me want to meet Gordy in real life and high-five him. 

We ran into the Reardan High School Library. "Look at all these books," Gordy said.
"There aren't that many," I said. It was a small library in small high school in a small town.
"There are three thousand four hundred and twelve books here," Gordy said. "I know that because I counted them."
"Okay, now you're officially a freak," I said.
"Yes, it's small library. It's a tiny one. But if you read one of these books a day, it would still take you almsot ten years to finish."
"What's your point?"
"The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know."
Wow. That was a huge idea.
Any town, even one as small as Reardan, was a place of mystery. And that meant that Wellpinit, that smaller, Indian town, was also a place of mystery.
"Okay, so it's like each of hese books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all the books ever written, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn."

Another character I fell in love with was Junior's grandmother, the only Indian that was enthusiastic about Junior leaving the rez school.

Now, in the old days, Indians used to be forgiving of any kind of eccentricity. In fact, weird people were often celebrated.... my grandmother, she still hung onto that old-time Indian spirit, you know? She always approached each new person and each new experience the exact same way. Whenever we went to Spokane, my grandmother would talk to anyoe, even the homeless people, even the homeless people who were talking to invisible people. My grandmother would start talking to the invisible people, too. Why would she do that? 
"Well," she said, "how can I be sure there aren't invisible people in the world? Scientists didn't believe in the mountain gorilla for hundreds of years. And now look. So if scientists can be wrong, then all of us can be wrong. I mean, what if all of those invisible people ARE scientists? Think about that one."  
So I thought about that one: [ draws a cartoon of Invisible Mountain Gorilla Scientist] 
 After I decided to go to Reardan, I felt like an invisible mountain gorilla scientist. My grandmother was only one who thought it was a 100 percent good idea.
"Think of all the new people you're going to meet," she said. 'That's the whole point of life, you know? To meet new people. I wish I could go with you. It's such an exciting idea."

A kind of funny but sad part was when a billionaire shows up at the reservation to dole out his "graciousness" to the Indians....

"I'm not Indian, but I feel Indian in my bones"
... we all groaned... he was yet another white guy who showed up on the rez because he loved Indian people so much.

Then there's a really cool scene at the high school which ends with Junior's classmates stomping out of the classroom in protest.

Also, there is this different way of looking at tribes: 
I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream. 
I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists...And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends.

I loved the ending, how it ends on the rez,  not on the bad parts of the rez, but the good parts. The great, ancient trees (some of them older than Benjamin Franklin). And the spooky stories about Turtle Lake. And Rowdy talking about how Indians used to be nomadic, but they aren't anymore... except for Junior... "you're an old-time nomad," Rowdy said. "You're going to keep moving all over the world in search of food and water and grazing land. That's pretty cool."



2 comments:

  1. I SO loved this too. I don't remember all the books I read but this one stuck with me. Great book to spotlight.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Margo, thanks for sharing about this book.

    ReplyDelete

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