Michelle'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 09, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, contemporary, young-adult, world-book-night
Read 3 times. Last read April 11, 2012.

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 i>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.

This review also appears at Chronicles of a Book Evangelist
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Quotes Michelle Liked

Sherman Alexie
“When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing.

And so, laughing and crying, we said good-bye to my grandmother. And when we said goodbye to one grandmother, we said good-bye to all of them.

Each funeral was a funeral for all of us.

We lived and died together.

All of us laughed when they lowered my grandmother into the ground.

And all of us laughed when they covered her with dirt.

And all of us laughed as we walked and drove and rode our way back to our lonely, lonely houses.”
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie
“If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.”
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie
“Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they're the four hugest words in the world when they're put together.

You can do it.”
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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