Adolescent LitBlog 5

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. NY: Little, Brown, 2007.

This'll be my second go-through this novel, and I can't believe how much I'm seeing this time than I did the first. I'm referring specifically to all the religious and mythological allusions: the wacky eyesight (one near-sighted eye and the other far) brings to mind Tireseus and other like prophets (weirdo vision is what I mean: blind prophets, heads turned backward prophets, etc. that allow for a different sort of vision from your regulrar, run-of-the-mill prophets, you know); from the Bible, Christ's statement about prophets not appreciated by their communities; and also from the Bible, Christ's talking to Nicodemus concerning begin born-again, and Nicodemus wondering, incredulously, that he could return a second time into his mother's womb. I don't know that Alexie (like most other writers) does all this on purpose, but because these folks are so well-read, learned, they're able to throw it subconciously into the mix, which makes for a richer and fuller story experience. (pp. 1-53).

Book Talk on The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie, better known for his fiction and poetry for adults, ventures into the young adult market with his latest novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in which he explores identity as it works itself out in the life of Junior, who considers himself “a zero on the rez,” and whose best friend, Oscar, is a mixed breed dog that one day gets so ill that he’s got to be “taken care of,” an all too common euphemism for “shot dead to alleviate his suffering.” His home life is no better: his parents are poor, too poor to have a right to even think they ever had a choice to choose otherwise. His “best human friend” is named Rowdy, whose drunken father beats on him so badly and so regularly that he’s taken to calling his bruises “war paint.” Junior has long looked forward to getting into high school, and when that day comes, he is utterly disappointed: he sees that his Geometry textbook used to “belong” to his mom, some thirty years prior. Angry at the afront, he chucks the book in the general direction of the front of the classroom and hits his white teacher, Mr. P, on the nose. Junior is summarily suspended. He is a “big, goofy dreamer,” though, in spite of it all, so he decides to take Mr. P’s kind advice after the book incident—Junior will follow after hope, but to do so he has to leave the reservation to attend high school in Reardan, a small hick, racist town some 22 miles off the reservation, but a great school, never the less. This decision causes a rift between Junior and Rowdy; and to make matters worse, he begins to feel “like two different people inside of one body.” At Reardan High he finally knows what it means to feel Indian; on the rez, because of his seemingly traitorous act, he feels white. While some on the reservation call him a warrior for stepping foot off the safety of their land, others shun him, Rowdy included, physically going after him during a basket ball game between Junior’s new team and his old. The book is about the self divided, but how this sort of dichotomous existence doesn’t have to mean a negative one. As soon as this title appeared, it caused some excitement, and a couple months back it won the National Book Award for Young People. Surprisingly, though, it was passed over for the ALA's Printz Award, not even getting an Honors nod. How disappointing a decision on that committee's part. This book is gads better than anything on the Printz list this year.


Stephanie Wolf said...

I have really enjoyed reading this book. It is one of those books that I can't stop reading. Good Choice!

Rene Saldana, Jr. said...

Thanks, Stephanie: it's always hard to choose titles b/c I so want my students to make them a part of their personal collections, not necessariy titles they'd have their students read, but books that they'd be so excited by that they can share that excitement. I'm reading a book called WHITE DARKNESS by Geraldine McCaughrean, the book that won the Printz award, and it's good reading b/c it's good writing, but I'm not yet getting into it like Alexie's book. You'll have to pick up his first book of fiction called THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FIST FIGHT IN HEAVEN, and watch SMOKE SIGNALS. The man's a genius!