Abby'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
Nov 28, 07

it was ok
bookshelves: teen
Read in November, 2007

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I loved Ellen Forney's illustrations, but I felt like the narrative only retrod ground that Sherman Alexie's been down many, many times before. Sure, he's really good at it, but I want something different now. Plus, I was not entirely convinced by the voice of the teen narrator. It felt to me like Alexie was just reworking the voices of previous characters from Reservation Blues -- the nerdy, slightly outcast Spokane Indian who loves books & basketball, has an angry best friend, has many drunk & depressed relatives, etc -- and adding some teen slang & angst to the mix.

There are several deaths in this novel, and they happen so quickly & abruptly that they almost feel cartoonish in a way. Alexie only gives his readers one or two scenes with the characters who die, and in most of these scenes their personalities and words are filtered through the narrator's voice. So it's difficult for the reader to really feel the impact of their loss in the narrator's life. We don't know these characters as full personalities, so we can't really grieve with the narrator or fully appreciate his grief.

Finally, there was the gratuitous use of a homophobic slur in an exchange between the main character & his best friend. Alexie even acknowledges that it's problematic to use these words, writing "Now that might just sound like a series of homophobic insults, but I think it was also a little bit friendly. ." I found this acknowledgment silly, out of character, and even a little bit offensive. The characters are not queer, so it's not as though they were reclaiming the words to use with each other. Alexie knows it's not kosher to use those terms unless you belong to that group yourself, so he tries to get away with it by having the character show some awareness that it's not okay. But in the end, he's simply validating the use of hateful terms. Either make your character a homophobe (or at least someone who's naive about the meaning of those terms) or make him someone who understands how hurtful those words can be and refuses to use them. But don't write a two-page chapter that ends with the main straight character calling himself "a happy faggot." Just don't do it.
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02/29 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Meaghan A lot of platonic, straight, non-homophobic friends use that word as a playful insult to one another. It's just a fact of life. Maybe it shouldn't happen, but it's realistic that two fourteen-year-old boys would call each other.

Abby I think it's totally realistic that teens would use that word playfully. What I don't think is realistic is that a straight teen would use that word AND, in the same breath, recognize it is a homophobic insult, as Alexie has his narrator do. I think Alexie includes that aside in order to justify the words coming out of his character's mouth, and I think that's kind of lame.

Ellie Actually, We teens do that all the time-(I don't, but that's just cause I'm a goody-goody.) None of those kids are homophobic. Kids say words like that and then quickly say, 'Aw, that was mean...' to THEMSELVES. They regognize that they sound homophobic. I hear stuff like this at LEAST 5 times a day.

cubbie it was actually my first sherman alexie book and i was just so excited by it, and really excited that a ya novel was treading on some of the ground that it was treading on... what other ya books would you recommend?

Michelle Lemaster I hope this isn't just retread ground. I loved this book. It's my first Sherman Alexie, aside from one of my favorite movies he provided the screenplay for, Smoke Signals. I guess I'll have to see what happens. Sherman Alexie is on my to-read list big time right now!

message 6: by Gary (new)

Gary "...but I felt like the narrative only retrod ground that Sherman Alexie's been down many, many times before."

So, for someone who has not read this author, which book tells his story best?

message 7: by Kim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kim Abby wrote: "I think it's totally realistic that teens would use that word playfully. What I don't think is realistic is that a straight teen would use that word AND, in the same breath, recognize it is a homop..."

I find it highly ironic that you would choose to use the world "lame" as a negative descriptor in your criticism of Alexie's narrator using and recognizing "faggot" as a homophobic slur.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

You should know that this book is based off his life and that the cartoonish deaths really happened to him. Life in the book is so simlar to Smoke Signals is because that is how life is on the Rez. I don't live in the Spokane area but I live on the Oneida Rez (yes I'm an enrolled member). We have lots to be angry about and how do we get that anger out? We fight, play basketball and drink. So, poking fun at truth again.

message 9: by Amber (last edited Sep 25, 2010 07:03AM) (new) - added it

Amber Sky I agree with Elyssa above me. I lived on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico for the first 11 years of my life, and am proud to be half Navajo, quarter Sioux and quarter Comanche. Even though it has been so long ago since I called that place home I can still remember that the things he finds to write about are universal truths in that world. Alcoholism, anger and depression being a central vein in the way of life of a modern American Indian. Maybe consider that next time you read something written by a Native American author, because they are few and far between but almost every one has similar stories to tell.

Kenneth John The use of the insults is to create a sense of reality. This is how fourteen-year-old boys often talk to each other--when you're not around, that is.

message 11: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Glenn Junior's grandmother says that gay people are both warriors and caregivers. In the beginning of the book, Junior takes care of Rowdy, so he sees him as a care giver. When Junior and his Rearden basketball team beat Rowdy and the Wellpinit team, Rowdy sees him as a warrior. This is why Alexie adds this very loaded homophobic slur.

Vicky I didn't like the extensive use of the "r" word either. I know kids use these words , but it's not cool and writers shouldn't encourage it. Use a different word to make your point.

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