Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie ***

My sister and I listened to this on audio - read by the author - on a road trip to Arizona over the holidays. This is my first listen to an author-narrated book, and I have to give Mr Alexie kudos for doing a great job with the voices and the narration. Of course, as author, he no doubt had in mind what they sounded like in his head, but I have read/heard that author-as-narrator doesn't always work, so I was pleasantly surprised.

The book's genre appears to be YA = Young Adult, a classification that is actually intended for younger teens. Why that is considered Young Adult I dunno - in my vocabulary, "young adults" would be 18 - 25 but of course at that age, they would probably read Actual Adult or AA books. Go figure. It's also classified as "coming of age" which more accurately described the story.

The protagonist was Junior, a Native American teen of the Spokane (as in State of Washington) tribe who lived on the reservation with his mother, father and older sister. He was born with "water on the brain" and apparently suffered no ill effects from it other than some speech issues like a lisp (he doesn't read it with a lisp, by the way). On the contrary, he was of above-average intelligence but suffered from the abuse of his peers being a geek and maybe somewhat physically different. He played basketball reasonably well in junior high, so I gathered he was also ok physically although he referred to his brain damage several times.

He also had a best friend on the rez who stood up for him when bullied, and with whom he spent a lot of time doing kid things. But by high school, he had decided he wanted more, so with his parents' help, he enrolled in the closest "regular" or maybe "mainstream" high school, some 20 miles from the rez where he was the only Indian. At this point, his best friend gave up on him, and he was left an outsider both at his new high school with all the white kids and also back at home on the rez.

The pivotal moment for me was his best friend admitting he had looked up the history of their people and learned that they had been nomadic before being sent to live on reservations by the American government. He realized then that Junior was actually nomadic - leaving the rez, driven to go away and sort of follow his ancestors to better places.

It didn't really have a "lesson" like children's books seem to have but it did have that moment of discovery, that Junior wasn't so much different as everyone else was - by staying in one place and not expecting more.

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