For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Our fourth YA book is The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and the review is written by Francisca Priem
Reading some books can’t be done without feeling the presence of the writer, his urge to present to you this big and important story he has, creeping at you with every word and every sentence and every page. Most of these books turn out to be real page turners, which you spend a lot of time thinking about in the days after you’ve finished it. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part time Indian by Sherman Alexie is not one of these books, at least in the page turner kind of way.
There was only one question I had at the end of the book: what’s up with all those native Americans being poor and addicted to alcohol?
Clearly, this was not the only question Alexie wanted his readers to have, I guess, from all the bad stuff happening to his main character.
Junior, the printed-almost-biographical younger version of Alexie himself, doesn’t have good karma. Not only is he born with a brain condition that gave him an enormous head and a funny way of speaking, which the native Americans in the ‘rez’ didn’t let him forget by making fun of him, but he also has an alcoholic father, a used-to-be alcoholic but now sober mother and a sister who is into reading and writing romantic novels. His one friend in the reservation is an aggressive kid without potential, which Junior’s mother and sister and himself do have but never got around to using it because, well, they are in a reservation. Junior decides to pull himself out of this poisoning environment, which he gets done pretty quickly. At this point he is no longer a native American with an enormous head and a funny way of speaking, but just a native American. This could have been a problem, but besides some emphasis on Junior’s relly tough life, with an alcoholic dad who’s too poor and drunk to pick up his son from school, Junior doesn’t really have a hard time at the white school. After kicking a rich white boy’s ass and being nice to the bulimic queen bee, Junior actually has a pretty good life at this new place.
Alexie could have taken this opportunity to explain a bit more about why native Americans have a hard time releasing themselves from the poor and alcohol filled lives that are waiting for them after their education, or why and in what way it isn’t something you just do for yourself, being a native American kid living in a reservation and all. Instead, Alexie chooses to make Juniors life even more complicated by killing off three characters that you didn’t really care about in the first place in less than ten pages and making making the story not about how he copes with that, but about this sad, sad boy who isn’t that likable at all, who really is very unfortunate in his life all the time.
I get the feeling that maybe Alexie wanted to point out that this is life for most native Americans – their lives are nothing more than an endless string of unfortunate events and their potential gets clouded by being very poor and having all this alcohol around and exploiting their casinos but gaining nothing from them. This book confronts us with those problems but didn’t offer more than that. The big question for me, about how native Americans get up every morning and cope with their pretty sad lives, as they are portrayed by Alexie, was not answered by reading this book, but had me interested in reading more of Alexies work, because his presence in Juniors head, in his words and throughout Juniors version of events was the only thing that made me keep on reading.