Saturday, April 9, 2011

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

This was mentioned by Cloud on Wandering Scientist. It is the story of Junior, a Spokane Indian, growing up on the reservation and his decision to attend an all-white school in the neighbouring farm town in the hopes of escaping the trap everyone else on the rez seems to have fallen into - giving up. Junior has had to fight his entire life, but this decision puts him at odds with almost everyone in his community, and drops him into a social setting which runs according to totally different rules than he is used to.

This is a fascinating look at two different societies through the eyes of someone who doesn't quite fit into either. It could be a horrible and depressing book, but Junior is such a brave and positive character that it isn't. There are really horrible incidents with people both on and off the reserve, but there are some absolutely fantastic examples of kindness and humanity which balance these. None of the characters were black and white. Junior's best friend spends most of the book refusing to talk to him, and only at the very end does he manage to cope with Junior's decision to leave the reservation. The big mean kid at the new school, who is initially very mean and racist, winds up being one of the kindest and most thoughtful characters once he has actually gotten to know Junior as a person rather than a stereotype. People are people, and they act it in this book. No one is all good or all bad. Sometimes good decisions lead to tragedy. Sometimes horrible things happen for no reason. But people go on being people, and mostly they are good people.

There's an astonishing amount of depth in this very short and very readable little book, and the cartoons scattered throughout are fabulous. Not just simple illustrations, they actually help tell the story. I loved it and it is going on my list of books to put in Elli's way once she's a bit older.