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.
I first came across this book in University, and did not really know what I was up against. Native culture was pretty new to me, and from the different parts that I had seen (from the different places that I lived) I could see that not only did the culture, but the stereotypes changed drastically from place to place. Now, I am only going to discuss my opinions of what I saw with the culture. Keep in mind that it wasn’t until later in my life that I really learned about the culture and the beliefs.
(I am going to ramble on about my life now .. Scroll down until you see the big red writing if you would like to skip this)
Growing up: In a small town there actually wasn’t anyone who claimed to be of native decent where I lived. Not far from me there was a reserve, as far as I knew they attended regular schools and were what I would see as “normal.” Now I use that word mainly to show my naivety. At that time I didn’t know much about racism since everyone attended the same schools and did the same after school activities. The odd time you would hear about the reserve holding a protest about something or another and we would go and honk our horns and give money to show support. Again, this to me was just familiar, I was used to it. I often didn’t even question the who or what or why they were protesting.
The University years: I attended University a little (or a lot) more north then where I grew up. My first impression was that the people there were awful. People were rude and ignorant mostly towards native culture and people. They were openly racist and stereotyped everyone based on their appearances. I took a native studies class where the professor (although white himself) would often curse “THE WHITE MAN” and had a few choice words to white people everywhere that I could and would not ever use in my life in any context. My eyes were awakened to things like residential schools and the spread of illnesses. I learned about their lifestyles before the Europeans came and was able to see how they were self-sufficient depending solely on the land. I was so grateful to be able to hear these stories and meet the people that had survived some of these tragedies. However, what I saw on the streets was not people proud of their culture, but people who had seemed to have given up on life.
It was after this class that I learned of their rights to welfare and why the people in the town had lost respect for not only the native people but also their culture. The town was caught in a lose-lose situation with humanity no longer existing. I saw thieves that weren’t stealing to survive, but stealing for status and revenge. I saw racism from the shop owners and mothers who would often keep an extra eye on the native people, or hold their children extra tight if someone of native decent walked by.
Although I came from a small town, I was never raised to act this way, but I started to notice myself getting more nervous walking down the streets. I hated this feeling, I hated the stereotypes and I felt bad over and over for watching these people, a whole culture, lose their footing within their lives. It is for these reasons that I love learning about native culture and that I hold the highest of hopes that the towns and reserves up north help these people find their footing once again. Despite seeing all of this first hand, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to read when a teacher handed me this book in Teacher’s College.
NOW FOR THE REVIEW
So, this book tied together all the emotions that I have discussed above. Arnold Spirit (Junior) has left his high school on the Reserve to attend a small town high school to make the best of his life. His story deals with bullying, alcoholism, death, and poverty. It is a story of ostracization, obstacles, and overcoming adversity. Alexie deals with life issues in real ways, and allows us a glimpse of life on some of the native reserves. Through all the reviews (good and bad) this book has always remained a prize possession on my bookshelf.
Despite all the negative issues in the book, I feel like teens need to read this. I think that despite everything they go through in their life, this book will show them that there is always a way to get through it. Using humour, cartooning and a lot of hope to make it through some awful situations. It makes an easy book for essay/assignment writing and comparison and is an easy read with Alexie’s sense of humour. I cannot do justice to this book with my words, you need to check it out for yourself.