The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian -- Sherman Alexie
Just now, I picked the book up to flip through and find a specific passage I was planning on quoting. I read two chapters before I put it down again. Oops.
Obviously, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is immensely readable.
The first time I picked it up, I only meant to read a chapter or two. (We were going to watch a movie.) But I couldn't stop. I read while I made dinner, I read while I ate dinner, and long story short, no movie. I read the whole thing in that one sitting.
It's the story of Arnold Spirit, Jr., an almost friendless 14-year-old boy with a huge head, a stutter and a lisp. An almost friendless 14-year-old boy with a huge head, stutter and a lisp who is also an aspiring cartoonist and an excellent b-baller. A 14-year-old boy who, "if there were a Professional Masturbators League, [would] get drafted number one and make millions of dollars."
And, as it becomes apparent, a 14-year-old boy who isn't satisfied. After a classroom incident that leads to a Big Talk with one of his teachers, Arnold decides to leave Wellpinit, a reservation school, and enroll at Reardan, a school 22 miles away populated by rich white kids.
He gets the expected flak from the Reardan kids:
I felt like Roger had kicked me in the face. That was the most racist thing I'd ever heard in my life. Roger and his friends were laughing like crazy. I hated them. And I knew I had to do something big. I couldn't let them get away with that shit. I wasn't just defending myself. I was defending Indians, black people, and buffalo.
So I punched Roger in the face.
He wasn't laughing when he landed on his ass. And he wasn't laughing when his nose bled like red fireworks.
But he also gets it on the rez. He's told that he thinks he's better than everyone else, that he's an apple (red on the outside, white on the inside), a white-lover. From most people, it doesn't mean much—it isn't like he has many friends to begin with—but he even gets it from his best friend:
"You'll never do it," he said. "You're too scared."
"I'm going," I said.
"No way, you're a wuss."
"I'm doing it."
"You're a pussy."
"I'm going to Reardan tomorrow."
"You're really serious?"
"Rowdy," I said. "I'm as serious as a tumor."
He coughed and turned away from me. I touched his shoulder. Why did I touch his shoulder? I don't know. I was stupid. Rowdy turned around and shoved me.
"Don't touch me, you retarded fag!" he yelled.
My heart broke into fourteen pieces, one for each year that Rowdy and I had been best friends.
It's heartbreaking and hopeful, and Arnold himself ranges from sarcastic to devastated to philosophical to practical to lusty to frustrated to resigned to angry. But never complacent. It did feel didactic at times—not so much that it bothered me, but enough that I felt it was worth mentioning.
The cartoons by Ellen Forney enhance the text—they aren't distracting at all, and her style fits well with Arnold's voice. Short sentences and chapters, lots of cartoons, and Arnold's matter-of-fact, tell-it-like-it-is voice will make this a good pick for reluctant readers. But not ONLY reluctant readers. Because it's a good one, period.