Jan 24, 2010

Loose review of The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I read two books this week.  First Shiver, then The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian.
I had two good cries this week.  I'm over that now.

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book will change you.  No matter who you are before you read Alexie's brilliant book, you will be different afterward.  I have been meaning to read this book for a couple years and I just never committed myself to the idea.  An Indian boy cripple who isn't really accepted by anyone and he likes to draw.  I can be a dick sometimes, and when I finished The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, I felt ashamed.  What is wrong with me that I have been choosing my books based on stereotypes?  It is true that I have an disinterest in Native American culture.  I appreciate the historical qualities and the social customs that we learned about in grade school, but I gotta be honest, I really dislike beaded dresses, feathered headdresses, and eagles.  But why is it that the dislike of those inanimate objects has digressed into my prejudice against the Native American population as a whole?

What the hell is wrong with me?

So, I read The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian and I am not going to say that I am a reformed man or that this book has made me into and Indian-lover because that would make Junior, the book's protagonist roll his eyes.  Well, that, and it's just not true.  This book changed me because it reminded me that we are all human.  I don't sit around plotting wars with the nearby reservation, but I have never allowed myself to think that maybe Native Americans deserve to be given something other than excuses (excuses being our name for their current situation).  I am not going to pretend that I know much about the issues of today's Indians, obviously alcohol abuse and smoking are prevalent, there are all sorts of financial hurdles each Indian must overcome, but how are these things different than the rest of us?  I think that is part of Junior's point in The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian.  He makes several comparisons between his rez and the nearby white town where he (the only Indian) attends high school.  This is seen as a betrayal by most of the Indians living on his rez, casting him further outside of their 'culture'.  Junior manages to overcome a crappy hand of cards that was dealt to him well before he was born and make a difference in his life.  He does this while battling all stages of grief, but he just tells you what's what and you either laugh or cry.  The trials and tribulations Junior faces in this book are enough to push someone beyond their breaking point, but Junio's life is not all bad.  He finds his calling and experiments with just plain old life a bit.  He lives a little and finds happiness in that fact.  He may be the only happy Indian on his rez, but he isn't afraid to show it, well, maybe a little scared.

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is full of anecdotes that will make you laugh hysterically and cry occasionally, sometimes simultaneously.  You will learn lessons you never thought you would.  You will learn lessons you never thought existed.  You will gain two new friends, one in Junior, who you will literally fall in love with and the other with yourself, where reflections will possibly annoy you, but more likely change you.

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian makes it into my top ten of all-time and is incidentally the third book in a row to do so.  I'm on a role.

Only two puppies left!  That means we have one available.


  1. I read this book a couple years ago when you were putting this off. And loved it. I think Alexie got a lot of flack for writing it in the NA community. Or maybe Alexie just generally does, but he does know how to push buttons. He's said things that have gotten my goat before. Okay that was sort of a tangent but have you ever seen the movie Smoke Signals(screenplay by Sherman Alexie). Also has NA peoples in it, so you may have to avoid it for awhile first but then you have to see it, because it is really good. And based on your other interests I think you would like it.

  2. OK, I'll read this book.

    Still haven't gotten that sideways photo thing figured out, huh?


  3. Tina - I will definitely check Smoke Signals out, thanks for the push.

    Anita - Yes, read it. This time the photo is actually oriented the way the camera took it. I think it's my fault that the angle is all wrong. But they're so frickin' cute, who cares? Hehe.

  4. Living where I do, I grew up with natives around all the time. We have a reserve about 50km's outside my town and when highschool hit, most of the natives came to our town, because their highschool was laughable. They were some of my best friends. I've found they generally have the absolute best sense of humour around.

    I dont know much about the situation in the States, but here it isnt the best. If they live on the reserve, everything is paid for. School, pens, books, food... everything. And when they hit 18 they get $20 000. It creates a lot of problems. I think if the "outside" world, and by that I mean people living outside the reserve, are more aware of the prevalent issues flourishing there, then maybe we can help the next generation--both native and "outsider".

  5. Well said, I really feel a sense of urgency related to this story. I think about the fact that Junior's story can be true and happening right now, at this very moment.

    The more I read, but especially the more I write, I add to the list of things I'd like to right one day.

    As writers, we have been asked how we would like our writing to affect other people. I always go to the profound first. You know, I'd like some little gay kid to feel better after reading this or somebody who's lost a sibling to know that they aren't the only one. I still want that, but I am becoming more concerned about the collateral consequences of my writing: me and my changing points of view. Through these changes, I am finding a new me. Not necessarily a better me, not a cooler me, but a different me. And that's really what I have been looking for all along.

  6. I have heard nothing but remarkable things about this book. I have to read it. Great review, Jonathon. :-)

  7. oh wow, those puppies keep getting cuter.
    I have a few books I keep putting off too, I should just dive in!

  8. Stephen Colbert interviewed Sherman Alexie on his show and it was so funny. I've been meaning to read the book ever since. So maybe I'll have to move it up a couple of notches on my To Read list!
    I hope people continue to come to your blog after the puppies go! :)

  9. Shannon and Kelly - Yes, read it! it only took me a day, but you will not be disappointed.

    December - I can never quite pin down whatever prevents me from reading a book for so long...but I am always so made at myself when I am done with the book and wished I had read it two years earlier. You'd think I would learn my lesson.

  10. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is one of my all time favorites too.