Courtney Johnston's Reviews > The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
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's review
Mar 22, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, biography, own
Read in March, 2011

I really wanted to resist the charms of this book. Putting together a review of it just feels so trite - the book will make you laugh then make you cry, make you despair and then make you hope.

But that's the nugget of undeniability at the heart of a good cliche - it all works because it's true. Sherman Alexie's YA novel about Arnold Spirit (aka Junior), the geekiest Indian on the Spoke Indian Reservation, who finds himself alienated both from the Indian community and the white community when he transfers from the rez school to a school 22 miles away, is a perfectly-pitched coming of age story that shows both the grinding nature of reservation life, and the spark of hope that friends, family, words and pictures can offer. And it's all based on Alexie's own childhood on that self-same rez.

A poet and a comedian as well as a novel writer, Alexie's voice (through Junior's first person narration) is laconic, ironic, often slapstick, funny and piercing:

I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals.
That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.
A few of my white classmates have been to a grandparent's funeral. And a few have lost an uncle or an aunt. And one guy's brother died of leukemia when he was in third grade.
But there's nobody who's been to more than five funerals.
All my white friends can count their deaths on one hand.
I can count on my fingers, toes, arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, penis, butt cheeks, and nipples, and still not get close to my deaths.

So yeah - Sherman Alexie plays your heartstrings like a pro, but it's a virtuoso performance. I have to say bravo.



I have this thing I do occasionally. It makes me feel bad, but it also feels so good.

I like to scan the reviews of books I really enjoyed that I'm about to write about, and find people on Goodreads who gave it a one or two star ranking, and read their reviews. Because usually, they're hilarious - in that they hate everything I love about the book. Or miss the point entirely (like the person who bought 'Mr Chartwell' because it had a picture of a big dog on the cover, and they like big dogs, and they were REALLY DISAPPOINTED when the big black dog turned out to be, like, a metaphor for depression).

So, here's a review of 'True Diary' that conflicts deeply with my opinion that the only thing tween readers should be protected from is Stephanie Meyer:

"Since last year, I have read several young adult books. I am often surprised by the content of books which are marketed to teens. I like to know what their brains are being exposed to. I now know that I would not let my teenager read this book because of the language and because the main character, Arnold (Junior) likes to discuss how he is an expert at pleasuring himself. I quit reading both "Angela's Ashes" and "A Widow for One Year" years ago because I just hate reading about that topic! Also, there was a racist, vulgar joke in this book that left me floored. I just about stopped reading the book right there. It was an insulting joke said by a white boy to the poor "Indian" boy in the school. We all know kids are mean, but I don't want my kids getting any ideas!

I know how teens are. I know teenagers can be foul mouthed. I know that adolescence brings on feelings of sexuality, but there are too many things these days that should be unsaid and are said anyway! Some issues are better for private discussion in the home. Thank goodness for Stephenie Meyer and Shannon Hale. I don't have to be shocked when I read their books because I know they will present subject matter tastefully."
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message 1: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Collins What books was the reviewer reading when she noted Meyer represents sexuality "tastefully" vs. wildly fucked up?

I'm just glad my tween got halfway through Book 2 and downed tools noting, "The way sex is in this book is messed up."

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