Because Ideas Matter...
The faculty and staff of Butler University's College of Liberal
Arts and Sciences presents
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time
by Sherman Alexie, Art by Ellen Forney. Little, Brown and Co.
Reviewed by Dan Barden
To call Alexie our greatest contemporary
Native American writer is sort of like calling Lance Armstrong our
greatest contemporary Texan American cyclist. It tells you
something, but mostly it misses the point. Alexie is one of our
greatest American writers, and last year's National Book Award for
this Young Adult novel makes that fact even harder to ignore.
It's the story of Junior, a very-much-like-Alexie-himself Native
American teenager growing up on the reservation and longing to
become a cartoonist. Junior decides - in a heartbeat - that he will
leave his much-loved but vastly problematic rez for an all white
high school. Accompanied by Forney's cartoons, the book is
bittersweet, deeply-felt, and laugh-out-loud funny. The fact that
it's a YA novel shouldn't be off-putting to anyone but an actual
teenager who doesn't want to confront the substance of daily life.
Each character is both lovely and benighted. The book climaxes with
a basketball game between the reservation and Junior's new school.
A nail-biter worthy of Hoosiers, the battle points up all the
ambiguities of life in 21st century America.
The story never feels like a dispatch from an exotic corner of
American culture. It's about American culture. Ultimately, it's the
story of an American teenager, in all his glory and goofiness. If I
found this book in the ethnic literature section of the bookstore,
I would pull it down and move it to the front of the store.
Probably, I wouldn't make it that far; I'd put it in the hands of
the first reader I found.
- Dan Barden is an associate professor of English at Butler