Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author(s): Sherman Alexie, Art by Ellen Forney
Genre: YA Contemporary Tragicomedy
Page Count: 230
Publisher: Little Brown
The Summary: Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend. Determined to receive a good education, Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wite and humour and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed.
--Summary from backcover
The Skinny: Hilarious and heart-breaking. Run, don't walk, to buy yourself a copy of this novel. You won't regret it.
The Review: Alright, first things first: I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS BOOK. Gawd why did I not read this sooner? Okay, I do in fact know the reason why: despite many people’s insistence that this book was funny, I have been hearing things about the whole heartbreaking aspect and that scared me. I mean, I love tragedies and all, but I have to be in the mood to dive into that kind of stuff. And most importantly, this whole comedy + tragedy paradox puzzled me because, to be honest, I didn’t think it could be pulled off properly. None of those old-time Shakespeare plays convinced me in their tragicomedy elements, nor did they in the Moliere plays I’ve read, and I mostly mock this genre whenever I see a work get labeled as such. From my experience, it’s either a little be a funny moments in largely a melodrama angst tragic!fest or mostly comedic with a tiny pinch of bittersweet moments here and there. Having never come across a fictional piece of work that convinced me of their “tragicomedy” element, I couldn’t see how it could be a perfect blend of both.
Well, now that I’ve read this novel by Sherman Alexie, I was proven wrong. There can most definitely be a book that does the perfect blend of the tragicomedy genre. How does Alexie do it, you might ask? By handling grief and suffering by sheer, vigorous humour. This is not a little pinch of comedy dabbled in to mask the overwhelming sadness of the story, or vice versa. The best way I can explain this mix of two opposing genres is that it runs parallel. It is at once laugh-out-loud funny in its narration and heartbreaking in its subject matter, and this way of narrating the story’s presented topics and issues bring the best of both comic and tragic elements. Because it chooses to depict suffering with a humourous voice, the heavy subject matter never feels preachy or worn down. (This is doubly notable to me because this is Alexie’s first YA novel, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across works by Adult genre writers trying their hands on the MG/YA genre and fail miserably by trying to shove down morales and whatnot down our throats.) I felt elated from laughter and tearful at the same time when reading over this novel, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a thing in my years of reading novels before. Usually I wait a couple novels before deciding whether or not a particular author’s writing style is a must-read, but if Alexie writes like this for all his novels, then he isn’t just a must-read. He is a Must-Buy.
Gawd, what else is there to say beyond lavishing praises and insisting that everyone should read this novel right now? The story and plot were so tightly woven, the kind that is so smoothly done that I don’t even think about how the future developments will pan out or whatnot--I just trust in Alexie’s narration and run with it. And the characters! Everyone’s lots of fun, and I suppose this should be a warning: this is one of those books wherein your enjoyment level is reliant on how much you like the main character and the narration. I’m personally having a hard time imagining someone hating Junior, but then again anything is possible. I really liked how Alexie balanced out Junior’s experience on the rez and in his new all-white upper class school. Thinking back, there is a lot of duality in this novel, the sad and the funny, the residence and his school, the two opposing sides of the basketball court, his two very different best friends, etc. The contrast is not jarring but blends so perfectly that they bring out the most of the two sides, and it’s hats off to Alexie’s deft writing talent for pulling this off splendidly.
Also, I think this may be my favourite novel-that-incorporates-art-into-its-story evaaaaaaar. Junior is an aspiring cartoonist, and the art in the novel works showcases this side of Junior’s character perfectly. All the art is amazing and totally relevant to the storyline. It even one ups this and gives a deeper look at how Junior views the world around him, beyond just the straight words out of his text. It’s not just artwork that complements the story: it’s artwork that adds to the novel, showing something beyond just the text and adding richness to the work. It’s sorta similar to the art in Phoebe Gilman’s picture book Something from Nothing, in that sense. And the art reflects the tragicomedy aspect of the text as well. Soooooooo good, argh my review is not doing this book justice, everyone, just jump this review and run straight to the nearest bookstore and order it. Okay? Okay.
So I’m going to end off by quoting some stuff. This book is soooooo quotable, but I really wanted to pick one that showed a little bit of how the art worked with the text without using a section that was overly spoilery. (I even took the pic of this cartoon with my camera because I love y'all so much) So I picked the following in the book. =D
My school and my tribe are so poor and sad that we have to study from the same dang books our parents studied from. That is absolutely the saddest thing in the world.Rating: 4.5/5
And let me tell you, that old, old, old, decrepit geometry book hit my heart with the force of a nuclear bomb. My hopes and dreams floated up in a mushroom cloud. What do you do when the world has declared nuclear war on you?
Title and Cover Discussion: Okay, I’ll admit, I hate the cover. I must have passed by this cover a million times and didn’t bother to pick up the book because it’s so BLAND. First off, I really like the shiny type YA covers, so this drab black backdrop isn’t really doing it for me. Now, I don’t mind black backdrops if there is an eye-catchy object or something in the front to contrast it, but there isn’t. It’s just these two action figures of an Indian and a White guy and the only real eye-catching part is the name of Sherman Alexie. I mean, I get that Sherman Alexie is a well-known name, but he is not known in the YA shelves and YA readers who don’t branch out much beyond this genre is going to look at this name and be like ‘huh, am I supposed to know this person?’ But this is one of those rare and exceptional situations where the title is so much fun that you really don’t care whether or not the cover is boring. I mean, look at the title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It speaks of fun, and a little bit of curiousity being sparked ‘cause you’ll go, “hmm, part-time Indian? How can some choose to be Indian part-time?” and may give the novel a few page flips to figure this out.