Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's about a young Spokane Indian, Arnold (or Junior, as he's known on "the rez") who leaves his reservation and his people to go to high school in a place where people feel hope (i.e. an all-white school in a neighboring farm town). The people back on the rez, including his life-long best friend Rowdy, see his leaving as an unforgivable betrayal, and it takes a while for him to find his place at the new school. In the meantime life deals him a harsh series of tragedies, but Arnold never gives up. He navigates the vast gulf between his impoverished Indian community and the middle-class white school with humor and toughness and a sharp sense of irony.

As a "diary" the story is told (very authentically and with much self-deprecation) in Arnold's 14-year-old voice. He never shies away from who he is or what he's thinking or feeling, just puts everything out there. He also draws as a way to vent, so the book is littered with scraps of cartoons whose humor ranges from witty to ruminative to quite dark. And the cartoons don't just restate what's in the text, they add a lot and help define Arnold's mood and express his feelings.

Although this is ostensibly a young adult novel, I can't imagine anyone of any age it wouldn't appeal to. It's heartwarming and heartbreaking, hilarious and tragic, and I absolutely loved it from start to finish.