Posts tagged ‘YA fiction’

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie

This guy was in love with computers. I wondered if he was secretly writing a romance about a skinny, white boy genius who was having sex with a half-breed Apple computer.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is not actually a diary, unlike some children’s/teen’s “diary” books you might see at a bookstores. Diaries have recently become a trend in children’s books, but that’s besides the point. This book is not a diary. It does, however, have picture clippings from the main character, Arnold/Junior’s diary. These add to the flavor of the book, but it’s not a diary on its own. This book is also humor. But not really. It’s more tragic. Perhaps … tragicomic? All the comedy in the story derives from the main character, Arnold Spirit, oft called Junior. If the story was read without his, well, spirit, it would read as a tragic story about drinking and fatalities on Indian reservations in the USA. It’s only Arnold’s comments and attitude that save it from becoming a tragic, angsty funeral of a story. The above quote might be the best summary of Arnold’s humor. He retains this ability, even in most tragic moments. At a few points, especially in the latter part of the book, the tragedy overcomes the comedy. This is not a happy book.

Arnold lives on an Indian reservation. His school is awful, people die frequently, and life is all around lousy. One of his teachers, filled with guilt over failed pupils, recommends that he go to the school in the nearby town where the only other Indian is the mascot. He manages to get there, helped by his strong-willed and lovely grandmother. But his troubles have only begun… He has a hard time, both in becoming accepted at his new school and trying to avoid being hated by the others at his reservation for being a “traitor.” He meets new people at his new school, including Gordy the computer geek and Penelope, who becomes his girlfriend. And life goes on. So does death. I won’t spoil it all, but the latter parts of the book are literally blow after blow.

This book is very different than the other two books I have examined. They are all comedies, but this uses the comedy for more than just blasts of funny. Pratchett does this with his later Discworld books, but the earliest ones are often just pulling for gags. Parents should be warned, however. The treatment of several serious issues is probably not how they should first be exposed to teens. The key example, in my mind, is the treatment of bulimia. Penelope, Arnold’s girlfriend, has bulimia and keeps it hidden. Little more than a page discusses her bulimia, whilst her beauty has much more description and such. This should be emphasized. The characters also casually use swearwords, especially ret*rd and f*ggot. I personally do not care much about that, but parents who are concerned about that sort of thing should keep it in mind. Still, it is a great teen read! (Also, many pictures for those teens who still feel nostalgic for picture books…)

My Rating: 74

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April 22, 2009 at 9:58 PM Leave a comment


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