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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book won the National Book Award and the 2008 American Indian Youth Literature Award (This new literary award was created as a way to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians. Books selected to receive the award present Native Americans in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts.), and it is really well done. It's funny and serious at the same time, somewhat depressing but also hopeful. The story is set on the Spokane Indian reservation, and the main character is goofy looking Arnold Spirit who really doesn't love life on the rez, but doesn't know of any other choices, either. And then someone tells him he really ought to try school at the nearby white kids' school in Rearden, and Arnold decides to give do it.

Arnold's choices provide him with some opportunities he would not otherwise have had, but the cost is high. Arnold is basically shunned by most people on the reservation because he's seen as a traitor, and he's shunned by most of the kids at school because he's an outsider. Eventually he finds his way in with a few kids, including a beautiful girl, a star athlete, and a super brainy student. These people, basketball, and his cartooning (which illustrates many of the stories and events of the novel) help him survive high school, the only chance he really has of a positive future.

This novel is a pretty in-your-face look at life on an Indian reservation and inside the head of a teenage boy, and I really liked how it doesn't gloss over some of the difficulties faced by Native Americans but addresses the issues forthrightly, helping to enlighten people outside that culture about the problems they face.

I recommend this book for 8th grade and up.

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