Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

By Sherman Alexie

Arnold, or as he is known on the Reservation, Junior, has had a lot of trouble in his life. He had a lot of illnesses as a young child but his health has improved quite a bit. His parents, Spokane Indians, have problems too. His dad drinks too much. His mother used to drink a lot too but she is better. Money is always tight or nonexistent.
Junior is a bright boy who loves to draw cartoons to poke fun at life and to help him cope with stress. In his last year of classes before starting high school, Junior throws a book at a teacher. Later the teacher stops by his house to talk to him and tells Junior that he needs to make a life for himself and not be limited by the his circumstances. He needs to leave the Reservation.
Inspired, Junior decides to attend high school in a nearby town, Reardan. Since he is pretty good at basketball, he hopes to be on the team too. It will be a great hardship for Junior to attend a school so far away from his house. His parents can sometimes take him but often he has to walk it or hitchhike.
The rest of the tribe turns against him for leaving the local school. His best friend turns against him too. But his family respects and admires him for his choice and he struggles on.
The Reardan kids are cold at first, but he gradually makes friends and becomes accepted and he does get a position on the basketball team.
Seems like all is going well for Junior. Then tragedy strikes his family, not once, not twice, but three times. Has the world turned against them? Is it his fault for daring to do something different? His questions and depression mounts as tragedy after tragedy slams down on those he loves the most.

This was a pretty good story. Junior has a lot of strikes against him but he also has the intelligence and drive to rise above. The book is mildly amusing at times but also very sad and depressing too, especially the last third of the book. A strike against it, for me, was the emphasis on sports. One whole chapter, twenty pages long, is a description of a basketball game. I just skimmed that chapter.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, although it is most definitely not the laugh-fest as portrayed by the blurbs on the back of the book. To me, it was much more sad than amusing, so that was misleading. Because of that and the boring sports descriptions, I rate it a fair read.

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