2010: 114. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

"I was born with water on the brain."

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

          The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a National Book Award winning young adult book by Sherman Alexie, who is generally better known as a writer of adult fiction.  It’s the story of Arnold Spirit, a young man growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpit, Wa.  He’s been dealt a heap of trouble - beyond the inherent issue with growing up on “the rez” i.e. the poverty, the racism, the alcoholism, all of which Alexie manages to talk about without being heavy handed and depressing, no matter how sad and real the issues Arnold faces are.  Beyond that, he was born with water on his brain, so that even though he’s really smart, he looks funny and has issues that make him an outcast among his own people (nerdyness + looking funny = trouble).  On top of that, Arnold decides to take his fate into his own hands, and to start going to school off the reservation in order to get a better education.  This involves traveling 20+ miles to the “white school” and dealing with being the only Indian around, and being poor and different and even more of an outcast.  But Arnold perseveres, and despite some hard and major setbacks carves himself a life and takes charge of his destiny.  

        That seems like a LOT of plot, when I write it all out, but what makes this book such a charmer is how deftly and economically Alexie gets all that information to the reader.  A lot of is helped by the pencil drawings that pepper the text (Arnold is a cartoonist, and we see his drawings illustrating his story).  But mostly it’s the way Alexie writes - making Arnold seem real, and his struggles, which are often heartbreaking and impossible, just be his own reality, so that rather than seem bleak and/or bathetic, it just seems like Arnold’s life which he is living to the best of his ability (and doing a darn fine job, despite his hardship).  And Arnold himself is so winning - he’s not perfect, but he’s determined.   It’s funny - I thought of this as sort of a simple book, but now that I write about it, I realize that there is a lot there - just presented in a deceptively simple - one might even say effortless - fashion.  A very good read, especially for the audience for which it is intended.  I think thirteen year old boys would love this book and would certainly benefit from it. 

Categories:  Fiction, Library Book, YA

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017