|The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie|
|Reviewer: Nigethan Sathiyalingam|
|Summary: A powerful coming-of-age story, full of so much life – hope, despair, humour, grief and love - that makes for a mesmerising read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 230||Date: January 2015|
|Publisher: Andersen Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Arnold Spirit, or Junior as he is known on the Spokane Indian Reservation where he lives, is about to face the biggest challenge of his life, fourteen years that have already seen their fair share of challenges. He knows the decision to go to the rich all-white school, in the nearby town of Reardan, is a necessary one. It means travelling twenty-two miles every day to a town where he's going to be even more of a target, even more out of place, than he already is on the rez. It means risking the wrath of the other Indians, who will see him as a traitor, a turncoat. And worst of all, it means losing his best friend and partner in crime, Rowdy. However, it is the only way he can possibly break through the vicious cycle of impoverishment, depression and rampant alcoholism that has taken over the lives of so many of the inhabitants of the reservation, and it is a path that he must walk for the sake of not just his future, but that of his tribe.
Arnold is an incredibly relatable character. He is clever and thoughtful, but never feels like anything other than an adolescent kid. This makes it all the more compelling to follow his journey as he deals with difficult issues such as poverty, alcoholism, bullying, prejudice and grief. Sherman Alexie holds nothing back, as he presents these aspects of Native American life on the reservation, and it makes for a very powerful and visceral read. However, at the same time, he shows that nothing, whether it is life on the reservation, life at Reardan or the various characters inhabiting both, is one-dimensional. Despite a difficult background on the rez, bullied by many of the other inhabitants, living with a family with an alcoholic father and a sister who has shut herself off in the basement, and constantly reminded of just how poor their family is, Arnold never quite loses hope or the ability to appreciate the positives in life. His family may be dysfunctional, but he knows they love him, and that his parents are doing their best with what they have. The other inhabitants of the rez might treat him poorly, but he knows that he is still very much a part of their strong community and vibrant culture. And he has always has Rowdy, his tough, mean and short-tempered best friend, closer to a brother than anything else.
Going to Reardan means risking much of what he holds dear at the rez, but for Arnold, it is a risk that he has to take. To succeed at Reardan he must somehow find a way to fit in, despite his vastly different background. Arnold will have to prove that he can create an identity for himself that isn't defined by his background on the rez, while at the same time somehow maintaining his connection to his culture and heritage. It is far from easy, but Arnold is tougher than he looks, or even realises, and armed with an unbreakable spirit and razor sharp wit, he might just succeed.
Within just the first few pages, I found myself completely immersed in Arnold's story, and it pretty much doesn't let up till the very last page. The narrative is presented as a stream of consciousness, overflowing with brutal honesty and wonderful humour, with bursts of despair and joy in equal measure. Everything, from the various characters, to the settings of Wellpinit and Reardan, to the life-changing events that Arnold finds himself having to deal with, is brought to life incredibly vividly, aided by the style of the narrative and complemented by Arnold's brilliant, and often hilarious, cartoon-style illustrations. It feels like almost every chapter has lines worth quoting, and this is a book worth re-reading purely for the quality of the prose, notwithstanding the story itself, which is poignant and often heart-breaking, but ultimately very much uplifting.
My thanks to the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For younger readers, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series also utilises cartoon drawings to complement the main character's life in middle school. Wonder by R J Palacio is another poignant story, with a young protagonist who has to deal with far more than his fair share of trials and tribulations. Meanwhile, In Bloom by Matthew Crow is another great coming-of-age story with a wonderfully funny and bluntly honest narrator.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is in the Top Ten Books for Teens 2015.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie at Amazon.com.
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