If you’re a book person or a YA (young adult) person or anything, you probably noticed an uproar a week or so ago, started by this article from the Wall Street Journal. Basically, the author suggested that YA fiction is “too dark” these days. As you might expect, YA authors and fans all made a lot of noise in response. One such response was by Sherman Alexie, and as such, I decided to read his The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Good choice.
The Absolutely True Diary … is an account of a year (or so) in the life of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a teenager growing up on an Indian reservation. In making the decision to leave “the rez” to attend a much better school in a small white community, he alienates his tribe, loses his best friend, makes some surprising new ones, and learns a lot about himself and about the real world. It’s sort of a coming-of-age story, except at the end of it, Junior still has a long way to go.
This was a really fun (and quick and easy!) read. For the first chapter or so, I was feeling a bit like Alexie was trying to create his own Holden Caulfield, but ultimately, Junior’s voice won me over. He’s smart and honest and sensitive, and just such a BOY. The sad realities he shares about being an American Indian, and really about adulthood in general, are depressing, sure, but through his creativity, there still seems to be a bit of hope. Junior is an aspiring cartoonist, and as such the story is accompanied by some of his “cartoons,” marvelously drawn by Ellen Forney.
I was expecting something much darker given Alexie’s essay, and was pleasantly surprised here. Again, the subject matter is often quite serious and adult, but it’s treated with a sense of humor that is not disrespectful, but is rather whimsical. I really enjoyed it for its realism and humor, and the narration is the crowning achievement. You will love Junior (who presumably has more than a bit of Sherman Alexie himself in him) and cheer him on in any future, un-read-about (?) adventures.