I love young adult books and I love getting book recommendations from people who’s opinions I trust and whose tastes I share. And that is how The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie fell into my lap.
Fourteen-year-old Junior is an artist, a cartoon artist to be exact, who desperately wants to get away from the Spokane Indian reservation where he lives. Junior has had some disabilities and impairments since the day he was born with “water on the brain.” This, added to the all around general awkwardness of teen years makes him an easy target to be bullied and beaten up on the regular, so he mostly spends his time at home in his room drawing.
After a particularly bad day at school he tells his parents he wants to transfer to a different high school, outside of the reservation. Hesitant though supportive, his parents willingly let him go to school twenty minutes outside the reservation, even though everyone else he knows calls him a traitor for going to a white high school. This book is as witty and funny as it is grievous and agonizing as Junior narrates his life with dead pan humor and thoughtful reflections about his world and the people around him.
“I draw all the time. I draw cartoons of my mother and father; my sister and grandmother; my best friend, Rowdy; and everybody else on the rez. I draw because words are too unpredictable. I draw because words are too limited. If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human because will get your meaning. But when you draw a picture everybody will understand it. If I draw a cartoon of a flower, then every man, woman and child in the world can look at it and say, ‘That’s a flower.’ So I draw because want to talk to the world. And want the world to pay attention to me.”
If you look around online you’ll find a lot of people reviewing this book telling you that it is most definitely not for young adults and giving you dire warnings and spoilers. I disagree. This book is about teenagers growing up, families, friends, schools and teachers, love, race, introspection, loyalty, and identity. Are those not all things young adults go through and navigate on the regular?
If you think your pre-teen or teen is too above reality then by all means offer them a book that in no way relates to their young adulthood. But here in reality, this is the perfect book for them to read. It’s easy to read and funny and will probably hold the attention span of an eighth-grader better, not to mention teach them more about race, than say, To Kill a Mockingbird…but forcing classic literature on teens who are too young and have no life experience to understand it seems to be the way we do things here. So. I’m hoping that many young adults and regular adults will find this book and read it because it is that good.