Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Beverly Slapin's review of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

[On April 12th, I posted first impressions of Sherman Alexie's YA book. Below is Beverly Slapin's review, used here with her permission. It may not be published elsewhere without her written permission.]

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Alexie, Sherman (Spokane/Coeur d’Alene), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, art by Ellen Forney. Little, Brown (2007), grades 7-up. ISBN 978-0-316-01368-0

Hardcover, 16.99

What do you do when, every day, you leave your home reservation—“located approximately one million miles north of Important and two billion miles west of Happy”—to attend a high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot and you have to pretend not to be poor and your best friend becomes your worst enemy because you deserted him and you know your parents are sacrificing for you and doing the best they can but sometimes you have to hitchhike home? And, oh, yeah, you have a big head, huge hands and feet, you’re nearsighted in one eye and far-sighted in the other and you stutter and lisp. What do you do? You draw cartoons about your life and play basketball, that’s what.

Called “Junior” by his friends and relatives on the Spokane reservation and “Arnold” by the white people in the other part of the world he inhabits part-time, he’s an Indian boy coming into adulthood, literally weaving and dodging and rolling with the punches. But Absolutely True Diary is not just a litany of pain; it’s also about strength and resilience and endurance and culture and community. And laughter, lots of it, at the joys, at the sorrows, even at the tragedies. And always and ever, it’s about the land. As Junior and Rowdy climb almost to the top of the biggest tree on the reservation, they see “from one end of the reservation to the other. We could see our entire world. And our entire world, at that moment, was green and golden and perfect.”

Absolutely True Diary, illustrated with Forney’s amazing black-and-white cartoons, tells Alexie’s truths. This is his life. He really does enjoy reading Emily Dickenson and his sister really did die a tragic death. He can be arrogant as all hell, but this Indian boy can write. He’ll have you laughing out loud and then he’ll spin you around and whomp you upside the head. He’ll break your heart every time. I mean it.—Beverly Slapin

[Note from Debbie: The book will be available from Oyate as soon as it is available.]

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