April'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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Nov 18, 09

bookshelves: 2009, young-adult

Generally, when people talk about racism and the cycle of poverty, they are referring to African-Americans. It's rare, in a discussion of ethnicity and cultural bigotry, to hear about the problems facing Native Americans.

Sherman Alexie, in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, unveils those problems and shoves them right in the reader's face. Not aggressively, not accusatorily, but matter-of-factly, which is far more effective.

Arnold, through various means, decides he wants something better than what he can get on the rez. He transfers to Reardan, a white school 22 miles away, so he can get a challenging education that will give him the opportunity to go to college. That he has any goals, really, makes him different from most Indians on his reservation; traditionally, they fall into alcoholism, work sporadically (if at all), and die young.

Arnold is torn between his two worlds: because he's going to a white school, his Indian classmates feel betrayed, and he's the only Indian at Reardan, so he doesn't really fit in there.

Though he encounters tragedy--a lot of it--during his freshman year, Arnold treats each occurence not as a life-changing event, but as something that was almost expected. He's been to 42 funerals in his 14 years, he says, and with each new death, he becomes a little less tolerant of what has become an accepted way of life for his people.

There's a weird dichotomy presented here, in that Arnold's story is punctuated with comics, but his story itself isn't comical. He uses his illustrations as a way to work through his own thoughts and to come to terms with what is expected of him and what he expects of himself.

I really liked the book. It gave me a better grasp on Indian culture. Not necessarily the traditional culture of "the old ways," but the culture that was forced upon the Indians when they were first fenced into the reservations and how it's manifested itself since then.
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