“I have no doubt that in a year or so it’ll both be winning awards and being banned.” -Neil Gaiman
This book is the reason I think more people should read “banned books”. Alexie is honest. Brutally honest. Writers are often given the advice “write what you know”. His works have always shed light on a culture that few outside of it understand. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, he approaches his familiar subject matter from the perspective of a teenager caught between two worlds.
Arnold Spirit, or Junior, is a teenager living on the Spokane Reservation. All around him he sees despair. His father is a binge drinking alcoholic. His best friend is frequently beaten by his “mean drunk” of a father. His family is so poor he sometimes only eats once or twice a day. Born with brain damage, though smart, Junior’s entire appearance makes him standout and makes him a target for bullies, even the adult ones.
“The only thing you kids are being taught is how to give up,” Junior’s math teacher, Mr. P., tells him one day. Mr. P tells him he needs to look for hope. He needs to leave the reservation. Junior tells his parents that night he wants to transfer to the nicer, white school twenty miles away from the rez. They agree without debate.
The rest of the book is a wonderful, funny, heartbreaking account of a young man split between two worlds. His decision makes him even more of an outcast on the rez. At his new school he is the poor “red” kid. A surprising talent for basketball helps to bridge the gap with whites, but creates a bigger problem back home and might even cost him his best friend. As well as clever and often humorous narration, the illustrations throughout really bring home the story.
From first crush/love to tragic losses, you want to be there with Junior through all of it. He is just that kind of character. He is honest though- about everything. He freely discusses drunkenness, masturbating, child abuse, violence, his issues with both the cultures he lives in, and a host of other topics that some might find offensive. The thing is, everything he says is true and it is worth reading. It is worth understanding.