The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (13 and up) sounds like the sort of book that parents want kids to read but kids actually don’t want anything to do with. Sort of the literary equivalent of the dull preachy after-school-TV-special.
Luckily, it’s not any of that.
“Arnold Spirit, a goofy-looking dork with a decent jump shot, spends his time lamenting life on the “poor-ass” Spokane Indian reservation, drawing cartoons, and, along with his aptly named pal Rowdy, laughing those laughs over anything and nothing. When a teacher pleads with Arnold to want more, to escape the hopelessness of the “rez,” Arnold switches to a rich white school and immediately becomes as much an outcast in his own community as he is a curiosity in his new one.”
Beyond being a story about the modern plight of impoverished native Americans, or a story that deals with death (Arnold’s been to 42 funerals) or alcoholism or being bullied or not fitting in or falling in love or coming of age, it’s just a darn good read with moments of unexpected genius.
“I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods,” Arnold says, “and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”
The book is filled with quiet poetry, mainly because Sherman Alexie was originally a poet before he became a novelist. Alexie, a native American who lived on the “rez” in Spokane, just like Arnold, clearly understands the world he is writing about and faces it with brutal but loving honesty.
Arnold weathers the typical teenage indignations and triumphs like a champ but soon faces far more trying ordeals as his home life begins to crumble and decay amidst the suffocating mire of alcoholism on the reservation. Alexie’s humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn’t pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes.” (excerps from booklist)
This book came out a few years ago but it remains a staple in both bookstores and libraries, and likely will continue to do so for many years to come.