Monday, December 21, 2009

Retro Tuesday: The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, reviewed by Miss Ami

We've decided to start a new weekly feature, called Retro Tuesday. As hard as it may be to believe, some librarians have not read every single book in their collections. Occasionally we run across a book that is new to us, and worth commenting on, but not exactly a recent publication. We are going to take Tuesdays to review some of these books, in the hopes that they still might be new to someone else. If not, you can just leave us a comment saying "I can't BELIEVE you hadn't read that yet! Some librarian you are!"

A recent move further from work means I can't just run home on my lunch hour, which gives me some forced reading time here - bonus! I have started browsing through the YA shelves in order, so our first book will be:

Originally published a few years back, I have seen this one mentioned on a few blogs lately, another incentive to pick it up. I am so glad I did! How can a book be so hysterical and so terribly sad at the same time?

Junior was born with several strikes against him: in addition to being from a poor Native American family that seems to have given up hope, he has a host of medical problems that, if they don't kill him, will at least ensure he is picked on pretty much every day of his life. All this comes in the first chapter, which as I said, somehow manages to be blunt but funny at the same time.

"Do you know what happens to retards on the rez? We get beat up. At least once a month. Yep, I belong to the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club."

Maybe that's not funny. Maybe it's just awful, and if a non-Native person had written it as pure fiction, let's face it, it wouldn't have made it all the way to the publisher. But (and I have to say fortunately), it was written by Sherman Alexie, who not only is Native American, this is a mostly autobiographical book. (Check out a brief summary of his life here) If he can be brutally honest and still laugh at himself, who are we to argue? (I have to ask, though, did that blocked jump shot REALLY happen?)

People who have never been trapped in the cycle of poverty (or abuse or drug abuse or whatever) find it very easy to say, "If they would just do xyz..." Sure, for you, if you were suddenly thrust into that situation, it might be very easy to find your way out. That is the way you have been built. When people are born and raised into a particular life, however, there is nothing built into them that even allows them to really believe that possibility exists. Sherman shows both the hopelessness felt by most of those around Junior, while making us fall in love with this young man who somehow, with everything else he has lost, has still managed to find and hang onto a hope of something better.

All this sounds very deep and heavy, which is really not doing justice to the book. Page 176 (hardcover 2007 edition) made me laugh so hard I had to stop and read half the chapter aloud to my teenage daughter, who immediately called 'dibs' on reading the book next. Junior's determination and hope are what you come away with in the end, as well as a huge amount of respect for Junior and many of the other characters. Highly recommended, and very glad I picked it up.


  1. Hah, I have not even read a third of my collection! And almost none of the YA fiction, although that doesn't stop me from booktalking it with abandon! I look forward to your reviews with interest!

  2. lol - glad to know I'm not the only slacker librarian (maybe that would be a better title for the blog; Three Turtles and a Slacker Librarian. Hmm...)