The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
another accomplished adult fiction writer taking a shot at a teen (YA) book. but this time around, it’s semi-autobiographical, as sherman alexie has tons in common with the teenage narrator of this book.
so, it’s the story of a smart and talented native american kid growing up on a reservation in washington state. his family loves him, but are massively screwed up. his only real friend has major anger issues and solves any problem with his fists. everyone, including adults, pick on him constantly. then, at the urging of a weird old white teacher, the narrator (arnold “junior” spirit) transfers to an all-white school in a nearby farming town. he says he’s the second indian in the school, because the mascot is an indian. and, while the story covers some of the years prior to his high school transfer, it’s really about this one year in his life, the repercussions both on and off the reservation.
the white kids are portrayed a little too nice, in my opinion. but, otherwise, the feelings of not fitting in, of trying to wrestle with that “affinity” issue, is not only universal to teenagers, it is — imho — the top-priority of youth culture these days (as i’ll argue in the book i’m writing right now). as a result, junior’s issues apply to every teenager (at least in america, and likely well beyond).
many of the young adult books i’ve read recently are good books, but would be difficult for me to recommend to an actual teenager. this one is a glorious exception: i heartily recommend this book for teenagers. it’s fun and revealing. sure, it has great insight into the life of native americans (particularly reservation life). but that’s really not the point. i also think it’s a fun and insightful read for parents and youth workers, because it speaks to this in-between, universal outcast sense that so many teenagers live with.
here’s a article by the author about why all kinds of teenagers are resonating with this book.
The truth is, despite my insecurities, those rich kids did care about my story. So did inner-city kids in San Francisco, middle-class kids in the Chicago suburbs, and kids from the reservation, barrio, farm town and every other region of the country. Why have teens so embraced my book? I think it’s because teenagers, of every class, color and creed, feel trapped by family, community and tribal expectations. And teenagers have to make the outrageous and heroic decision to re-create themselves.