As I am sure you have guessed now from the badge to the left, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is the book that I will be giving away for World Book Night!! I really don't think I could be more excited! To celebrate I want to start this week with an (admitedly late) review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, as well as a giveaway for a hardback copy! The winner will be announced on April 23, 2012 - World Book Night! On to the review! (And I'll try to put away the exclamation points!!)
Publication Date: September 12, 2007
2007: National Book Award for Young People's Literature, A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, American Indian Library Association Award, Horn Book Fanfare Best Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry
2008: Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee, American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Young Adult Book, ALA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
2009: Florida Teens Read Nominee, James Cook Book Award Nominee
2010: South Carolina Book Award Nominee for Young Adult Book Award
2011: Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee
Whew! I think that's all of them!
In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
I just finished reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for the third time, so, according to Gordy, I suppose I should know it by now. However, I feel just as inadequate to the task of writing a review for it as I did the first time I finished it. You see, every time I have read it, I have come away from a different book. It would be really easy to just go on and on about how often Part-Time Indian is banned, and why that is wrong or absurd, and never have to say something personal. (And yes, each of those words is its own link.) However, though I lack his humor, I will try for Arnold's honesty and explain why I think this book is so very special.
My first time to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was not long after it had been published. My life was full of change, and much of that change was a result of death. I didn't really know anything about Part-Time Indian, or I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Thank goodness I did! Even while reading things that resonated so deeply that I thought I would shatter all over again, Alexie made me laugh. Laugh! Because Alexie is right, "I know death is never added to death; it multiplies." (p 212) But it is also true that, "When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing." (p 166) After finishing, my love of Part-Time Indian was something that was just too personal to share.
My second reading of Part-Time Indian brought shame. Not a general sort of shame, but the very specific sort that comes from recognizing privilege you have previously ignored. I live near reservations. I have friends who are Native American. I know the very unsavory statistics of life on reservations. I thought of myself as a knowledgeable, understanding sort of ally. I could be quick to jump into a conversation with historical facts or statistics. But what a place of privilege! I could think about it or not as I chose--I don't have to live it. And a verbal 'victory' at a dinner table does precisely nothing for the people who do have to live it. I was one of those "liberal, white, vegetarian do-gooders" or "white missionary saviors" or "yet another white guy who showed up on the rez because he loved Indian people SOOOOOOOO much." You see, it took reading Part-Time Indian to realize that just 'caring' wasn't enough. Just trying to 'fix' things within the reservations isn't enough, because the problems come from outside as well. Until the Arnold's of this world are wrong when they say, "Almost all of the rich and famous brown people are artists," then we are still doing something wrong as a society. (p 6) I just love what Sherman Alexie said in an interview with the Progressive when he was included in the banned curriculum of the Mexican American Studies Program in Arizona:
"You give those brown kids some books about brown folks and what happens? Those brown kids change the world. In the effort to vanish our books, Arizona has actually given them enormous power. Arizona has made our books sacred documents now."
I want our world to change. But, yet again, what a personal response! Who really wants to write a review revealing just how ignorant they have been of their own privilege?
With this last reading, though, things changed. I realized that it wasn't the comfort it brought the first time I read it or the self awareness it provided with the second reading that brings me back again and again. It is simply this: Arnold. His frank, funny, painful, humiliating, triumphant, honest story. The way Alexie can bring you from the greatest of emotional heights to the most painful moments of sadness or shame with a single sentence--and you want to stay along for the rest of the ride because you're invested. Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a compelling story of a young boy's coming of age; it is not an issue book, but a character-driven story about a boy with a lot of issues. It is a story about finding hope when you think all hope is lost. It is about making your own hope. It is a story of learning to expect more for and from yourself than what others expect for and from you. It is about learning that where you come from does not have to define where you are going. It is about seeing the good and bad of each situation; that love can be expressed in a lot of different ways and still be real. It is about realizing that we are all a part of many different tribes, be they the tribe of poverty, small-town kids, funeral-goers, tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers, or chronic masturbators. It is about learning that "the world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know." (p 97) So maybe Gordy is right, maybe I do know Part-Time Indian, at least a little better than I did the first time. But that doesn't mean I won't be back again. I think there are still some things I don't know in this small part of the world, and I enjoy it here.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!
I am giving away one Hardback copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, one sticker (that was really supposed to be stuck to the book, but I just couldn't do it) naming it as a World Book Night 2012 selection, and one World Book Night bookmark. Simply leave a comment to enter, and that's it! For an additional entry, tweet about the giveaway and post the URL in the comments. (But only once, guys! Don't spam friends!) Giveaway closes on Sunday, April 22, 2012. Winner will be chosen via a random number generator (ie, my beautiful TI-89) and announced on World Book Night, Monday, April 23, 2012!
Winner announced here.
This review also appears at Goodreads; I purchased both my copy and the giveaway copy from Nightbird Books. They were also my World Book Night Pick-up location, because they rock like that.