600-word Review by Pablo Torres Bravo (Avanzado 2, 2012-13)
The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Alexie tells the story of Arnold Spirit Jr., known as Junior, a fourteen years old Indian teenager that lives in the Spokane Indian Reservation, Washington State. Scattered through the text there are a lot of funny cartoons helping us to understand it and using a great deal of irony.
The plot tells how Junior realizes that if he stays as an Indian, on the Spokane Indian Reservation, he will never get out of the poverty and all the constraints of Indian's lives on the reservation. He makes the resolution of leaving and going to an all-white high school in a nearby town, Reardan, encouraged by his white teacher on the rez.
Throughout the novel readers witness how Junior fights rejection by rez people, especially his best friend's Rowdy; the necessity of adapting to a new world, a white and more affluent one; his new love, Penelope, and his new friends; the love for his ancestral traditions. Meanwhile, he suffers the loss of his sister, his grandma and other friends of his, all the people from his Indian life.
His emotional world evolves around characters that are very representative of models and countermodels for Junior's personality construction: parents, Indian people plenty of abilities and talents that came to an end after a frustrated life just because they live in a deprived area. Mary, Junior's sister, dies along with her husband in Montana in an accident after a party with a lot of alcohol. Grandma, his counsellor, is a victim of a drunk driver. His friends, the old one, Rowdy, violent and very close, the white new one, Gordy, smart and odd. Penelope, his beautiful white new love… A world full of feelings and thoughts between childhood and adulthood, between the past and the present, between love and rage, between belonging and being rejected.
The style is straight-forward, hard, informal. It is written in the first person. His thought is really profound, original, fluent, very consistent with Junior's life. There is violence, sex, fears, a deep perception of what this teenage boy soul is like in hard times for him. It tackles real problems in society. Another strength in the novel is how Alexie plays with words and cartoons. For instance, on the same page we find literary reiterations (grief, grieve, grieving ceremony) to hammer on a feeling, or he uses homograph words (he was lying on his bed … but she was lying).
The work can be read at several levels. The most obvious is the story and the course of thoughts and feelings of Junior's. A second layer is the construction of friendships and relationships, temporary or permanent, between human beings. A third is a way of learning about the human world through words and cartoons, in the novel. Indian's problems are representative of a lot of marginalized cultures, there is a depiction of the life led by a discriminated people (un pueblo discriminado), represented in the inner fight of thoughts and feelings of a teenager.
Not only is this a complex and gripping novel but its literary style matches perfectly with the plot and characters. It is a very complete human story full of things to learn. It has had awards and social recognition between a varied kind of public. It is a contemporary social novel convenient to young and adult readers. It is food for thinking, a great resource for having a good time and a learning source for taking sides. Human rights await our action, and this novel could be a good trigger.
Check out Sherman Alexie's webpage on Talking People!