October 04, 2007

Escape from Spokane

When I found out Sherman Alexie's newest book was specifically a YA title, I was intrigued--I know that he's written a lot about teenagers, but writing for teenagers is a different ball-game. But it seems to be one that Alexie is equally adept at. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a story enhanced with excellent cartoons by Ellen Forney, we're introduced to Arnold Spirit, also known as Junior. Growing up on Wellpinit Indian reservation hasn't been an easy life, especially with his thick glasses, lisp, and nickname "Hydro"--Junior was born hydrocephalic and survived surgery as an infant and seizures as a child. And, for better or for worse, his trials aren't over.

"If you stay on this rez," Mr. P said, "they're going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. We're all going to kill you. You can't fight us forever."

"I don't want to fight anybody," I said.

"You've been fighting since you were born," he said. "You fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope."

This unusual call to arms from Junior's math teacher makes him realize that he needs to leave the stifling, hopeless reservation atmosphere if he ever wants his life to be more than the despair he sees around him. He asks his parents to enroll him in Reardan, a non-reservation school. A school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

It would be so easy for a book like this to be excessively moralistic, to beat readers over the head with the idea that generations of white people annihilated the culture of countless indigenous people. And though there were moments where I felt like that point was certainly made explicit, this is not a predictable story where either the brown man gets beaten down by the white man yet again, nor is it a story where everybody holds hands and sings songs at the end. It reflects the complexity of real life, with painful and haunting details that could only come from real experiences of reservation life--making Junior a sort of every-boy who both suffers greatly and finds strength and friendship in unlikely places. This story has a parable-like quality, too, but also succeeds in being laugh-out-loud funny as well as touching.

Don't miss the upcoming interview with Sherman Alexie on our sister site, Finding Wonderland, during next month's Winter Blog Blast Tour.


Anonymous said...

Can send it to you...or lend it next time I see you!

Anonymous said...

Nicely done! Can't wait to read this one - not available here, sadly.

Anonymous said...

Just finished this today. I really enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful and its wonderful story about life, that anyone can enjoy and learn from. It makes me happy to think people will read this, than I remember their will be a few who will want this book banned, thats very sad. And I can't not comment about the illustration, very very nice

Anonymous said...

I look forward to reading the interview with Alexie. I loved The Absolutely True Diary, which was funny, sad, and unpredictable.

It seems like a particularly good book for teenage boys who are reluctant readers. I think this book will find a big audience.