Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book has won Sherman Alexie the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. I haven't read any of the other books that were nominated, but I am glad that this book has gotten so much attention. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is about a kid who grows up on the rez, the kid nearly everyone picks on because of some physical problems he has (stuttering, lisping, and having a big head). But when Junior's teacher makes him consider options he didn't realize he had, Junior decides to take on a different future--he decides to attend school off the reservation, and though he was never a favorite child of the reservation's people, he pretty much becomes public enemy number one (traitor) for daring to have dreams and to go after them.

Though there were some things in the book I was skeptical of (the extent of his post-birth brain injury, for example), the truth is in the characters--the way his best friend reacts to his enrolling in a school off the rez, the way Junior finally sees the rez from a bigger perspective than as an inhabitant of it, when he realizes just how screwed up his life could be and the things he can do to keep from falling into the trap that was long ago set, and how people not on the rez have their share of problems, too.

Perhaps the best surprise of the book are the illustrations. Junior is a cartoonist, and he shares his doodlings, which are "taped" to the pages of his story. (The cartoons also make this book a fast read. I read it over the course of a day of substitute teaching while students were working on review sheets and watching a video.)

Fans of both Sherman Alexie and Chris Crutcher should definitely read this book. (Yes, I got a very Chris Crutcher feel from this book; maybe because of the significance of the basketball team to Junior's life.)

**Though the cover says that this is Sherman Alexie's first young adult book, his book
Flight was published last spring. Does that mean that this book initially had an earlier publication date intended? I don't know, but for some reason, it bothers me.

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