Tuesday, August 4, 2009

R - The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

By Sherman Alexie
Art by Ellen Forney

I just finished reading this - it was lying around at my mother’s house and she said it was pretty good. The book is classified as “juvenile fiction”, but I, at least, found it pretty good reading even for a middle-aged guy. It is the fictional and humorous diary of Junior Spirit, who is growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. After an incident at the start of his freshman year which begins with him discovering that his geometry book is the same one that his mother had used in school and ends with his teacher, with a newly broken nose, recommending that he leave the reservation school and go to Reardon High School (a distinctly *not* Indian school) Junior finds himself as the only Indian in school except for the mascot. Things do not go smoothly for him that first year, but he persists through personal struggles, tribal hostility and family tragedies to emerge at the end somewhat wiser and with a renewed hope.

It’s a fun book, but you really can’t read it without thinking about the challenges faced by many of the Indian kids who are stuck in sub-standard school on reservations where the only future they see is to become a drunk like all the rest of their family. One of the more profound statements in the book is this:
Reservations were meant to be prisons, you know? Indians were supposed to move onto reservations and die. We were supposed to disappear.
But somehow or another, Indians have forgotten that reservations were meant to be death camps.

Check it out. It sure beats re-reading “War and Peace”.

Find it on Amazon.com

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