- 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie
Book by Sherman Alexie.
Little, Brown Young Readers
A diary is kept, usually in secret, as a means of disclosing one's true feelings. To publish a diary during one's lifetime is simply social suicide.
Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,however,is meant to portray the fictitious observations and drawings of a boy, 14-year-old Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.). The novel, Sherman's first work for young adults, won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. But don't let that discourage adult fans of Alexie. It's not just for kids — the novel makes compelling reading for anyone from teens on up.
Alexie masters yet another style of storytelling, this time using a hero's journey format that can be traced back to Greek mythology. Although the tale is stripped of three-headed monsters, the basic journey structure is intact and works as the book's solid foundation.
The story begins with Junior describing his ordinary world. He is born with myriad obstacles, most of them seem sad and unbelievable. Yet Alexie's prose gives Junior a matter-of-fact manner, making him absolutely genuine. In short, a doctor takes a "mini Hoover" to his brain during surgery when he is just six months old. Junior's eyesight is lopsided because of surgery, so he has to wear "ugly, thick, black plastic glasses" that "make him look like a grandpa at age three." When his teeth develop, he has 10 more than normal children, and on the day that all 10 are pulled from his mouth the "white dentist believed that Indians only felt half as much pain as white people did, so he only gave us half the Novocain." He is tall, thin and claims to look like an "L" when walking down the street, with "an enormous skull which other little Indian skulls orbited around."
As the story unfolds, Junior faces further obstacles and complications. He copes with the abuse of other Indians on the reservation and retaliates on paper, where he takes to drawing because "words are too unpredictable."
The excruciatingly painful life Junior reveals never fails to get in the way of his aspirations, and he always cleans up horrible situations with some twist. His use of poetry and humor bring balance to the story and bring laughter or sentimentality just in time to prevent real tears.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indianis an honest look at a young man's optimistic struggle to find a way to bridge two worlds. Alexie is an accomplished writer who continues to daringly approach uncomfortable topics like grief, alcoholism, poverty and racism, even masturbation. He unfolds our faults as if they were absolutely the most precious flowers ever and he doesn't waste one intimate word on shame, disgust or ignorance.