Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.

Annotation:  To say Arnold Spirit, Jr., has lots of problems would be an understatement.  A punching bag for bulleys, "Junior" is abused and beaten on the reservation, but his home is little refuge for him.  Tragedy strikes over and over, but Junior finds a way to keep going, and believing things can get better.

Justification:  I sat for a long while trying to figure out how I would start this blog about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.  I do not feel that words can really describe how I felt about this poignant and almost unbelievable story (semibiographical) about Arnold Spirit, Jr.  His story caused me to do a few things I rarely do at such a level when I read a book.  It made me laugh and cry; real belly laughs and real tears (and at the same is that possible?) Just an amazing story!

“Junior” is what Arnold is called.  He is 14-years-old and lives on the “rez”, which is the Spokane Indian Reservation.  His circumstances are dire.  Having been born with hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), he suffers terribly with this medical condition, having seizures that cause a domino of other issues, but not just medical issues.  His medical issues translate to his appearance, and the constant ridicule of those who live on the rez.  This right here is not funny stuff.  However, Sherman Alexie can take such tragic circumstances and difficulties, and have you feeling sadness, laughter and compassion, all at the same time.  This happens throughout the book. 
Since there is so much in this book that touched me, I will try to give you the gist of one circumstance that is the foundation of much of Junior’s circumstances -- poverty.  Here is one excerpt by Junior: 
                It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor.  You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly.  And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian.  And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor.  It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance.  No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor. (Alexie, pp. 12-13)
This situation plays itself out when Oscar, Junior’s dog becomes ill, so ill that his alcoholic father decides reluctantly to put the dog out of his misery.  Here is what Junior says about this: 
“So I heard the boom of my father’s rifle when he shot my best friend. A bullet only costs about two cents, and anybody can afford that.”  (Alexie, pp. 14)
In Junior’s story, we see him struggle to find a way out of the reservation by deciding to attend public school.  We feel his deep desire to change his circumstances, to see his dreams come alive as a cartoonist, but there are hurdles, tremendous hurdles and obstacles.  The mountains of tragedy, racism, poverty, and alcoholism, stand in front of Junior the entire way.  But, he climbs them all.   Throughout the story, there are visual references in the form of cartoons, which are done by Junior.  For the reader who loves visuals, this is a great addition.  The drawings add to the story and are also quite funny. 
Finally, if you ever hear a young person (or adult) say, “I can’t,” -- give them this book!  While there are no easy answers here, this is a truly poignant story addressing the “who I am?” question all young adults have.  It is excellently written and authentic in content and narration.  Unfortunately, I was sad to hear that this wonderful book has been banned in some school libraries, but I strongly feel that teens should have the opportunity to read this book.  These subjects are clearly obscured by the overall message in the book.  A young adult will not just remember the controversial subjects like profanity or sexuality.  No, they will remember Junior’s story, and little of this.  It will open hearts to the circumstances of poverty, alcoholism, bullying and tragedy.  This makes the story authentic and real to life.  Junior’s story not only speaks to the teen experience, it speaks to the situations of the poor, specifically, the Native Americans, who sadly, have suffered since the beginning of our nation’s history.  This is something that we should not discourage in understanding. 
Read this book.  I cannot say it enough…it will make you laugh and cry, and appreciate the blessings in life.  And not only that, but encourage what we as human beings can and should do to help each other.  We are all human beings, no matter what our race.

Genre Category:  Semibiographical/Poverty/Multicultural/Alcoholism/Death

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