This morning I finished The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I read this book between May 7th and May 9th, 2020, and gave it three stars. I liked it and I recognize its importance, but I didn’t love it. The first thing I have to say is that, yes, I know that the title sounds problematic but this is an own-voices novel and the author self-identifies as Indian, not indigenous. This entire book is a conversation about race and ethnicity, then, from the point of view of an Indian teenager, Junior (or Arnold), who decides to start going to an all-white school outside of his reservation.
I can say that this is 100% one-of-a-kind, and although it is a compliment to the story, it is sad that being the well-person that I am, I had not read a book written by and featuring an indigenous person. The main character is fourteen years old and he was born with hydrocephalus, which means, in his words, that he was born “with water in his brain.” I don’t know if this constitutes a disability in and of itself but from what the main character narrates, the condition causes seizures and other health issues. This was not as widely explored as the topic of race, and I am almost certain that this type of representation is not own-voices.
Now, why did I not give five stars to this brilliant work of art? One simple answer is, I liked this book and I appreciate it for what it is, but I didn’t personally love it. I was also pretty conflicted as I read because I didn’t really know how to feel about it at first. I even looked at the reviews and was surprised to find that most were four or five stars. Would I give it four stars? No, even though the book grew on me, I stand by my middle-of-the-road rating.
Since the main character is fourteen years old, I thought this would read like an older middle-grade or a younger young-adult, but it didn’t, which confused the teacher in me. You see, when I read and review middle-grade novels, I think if I would read this with a class or whether I’d recommend this to my students, and the thing is, the answer is no to both questions. I would not even recommend this to a kid in my life outside of school because I think the writing style can be a bit too vulgar. Think I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle. Again, here I’m talking about the writing specifically, not the story or the themes.
Since I mentioned themes, I should say that there was one that was mentioned but very poorly handled, and it was eating disorders, specifically bulimia. It was present in only one chapter so if you’re interested in reading this book, you can tell someone you trust to read it before you and to tell you exactly what to skip. It also deals with issues of poverty, alcoholism, death, and grief, which are closely linked with the big theme of race. Those were handled really well, but in a way that I think an adult could understand, especially an adult who is aware of structural violence and intersectionality.
Have you read anything about Sherman Alexie? Let me know in the comments. I’d definitely read something else from him in the future.
Love, Miss Camila