I was at a friend’s house one night, having pizza and wings, working on some crochet projects, and talking about books. I was telling her about The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and how much I enjoyed it, how much of an impact it had on me, and she said it sounds a lot like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I remember seeing this at the book store, and remember there was a little bit of controversy about it, but never really understood why, so when she asked if I wanted to borrow it, I jumped at the chance. Who better to give you a good book recommendation than a teacher!?
The story is a semi-autobiography about a boy named Arnold Junior, who lives on the Spokane Indian Reserve. Junior has been teased his whole life for being different. He has a complicated medical history, which ultimately makes him an easy target to be picked on and bullied. He has no real friends, save for Rowdy, who is probably the only reason he is still alive. His family consists of an alcoholic father, a mother who used to be an alcoholic and now will not touch it, and a sister who does not come out of the basement, and they are incredibly poor. Junior lives on a reserve where alcoholism is rampant, and he has seen it claim the lives of too many of its residents. One day at school he gets so angry after getting a text book with his mother’s name written in it, and he throws the book, hitting his teacher. This earns him a suspension of school, and a visit from the teacher, telling him he can be more than this and encourages him to leave the reserve. So he does. Junior decides to go to the white kid’s high school just outside of the reserve, where he is the only Indian student. His tribe is offended by his decision, and label him a traitor. So every day Junior has to go to a white school and act white, and then go home to the reservation and act like an Indian. But he is determined to succeed, and to make a true life for himself, even if he has never really been given any chance to succeed. He has dreams, just like everyone else, and he will stop at nothing to achieve them.
I live in a city where we have 2 reserves close by, and I can still tell you I knew very very little of what life is like on either of them. I knew that the kids were bused into school either at the edge of the city or at another high school close by in a small town. I knew that they had a status card that allowed them to not have to pay PST tax on any of their purchases. And that is it. I know OF the stereotypes that exist around the natives in our area, and I have mentioned before how much I hate stereotypes.
But I had really no idea what life was truly like on the reserve. This was truly an eye opener for me. After reading this I felt so sad, and so ashamed to not know what was happening so close to home. I asked my friend after reading this if this was a really genuinely true depiction, and she assured me it was, which really brought tears to my eyes. I think I was so moved by The Hate U Give because I knew of what life was like in the ghetto area from movies and such, and it was so sad and unfortunate to read about kids who grow up in such conditions and feel that they have no choice but to follow those paths and live those lives. But this. This was so different. I think I honestly thought the stereotypes where just bullshit. Like you know they exist but that you can’t paint everyone with that brush, that they really were somewhat well funded by government, that they had opportunities other kids did not have because of their status, and I am so ashamed to be so wrong and so narrow minded.
The book was a fast read, and was riddled with drawings which made reading go a lot faster. But make no mistake. This may be a book with under 250 pages, but it packs one hell of a punch. The writing balanced so perfectly the struggle between sadness and humour, it was so elegant and so captivating. I have even picked up the book to read a second time before I give the book back to my friend! I have read that this is still one of the most challenged books in North America. Yes, there is talk about masturbation on ONE page, and yes, there is a little profanity. I have also read that some people viewed it as “anti-Christian”, which I did not find at all. I believe this is a book that should become a mandatory read in school. I believe this is a book that everyone should read regardless of age. The message of dreaming big and setting your mind to succeed and following through on your dreams comes loud and clear. So thank you my dear friend and fellow book lover for such a wonderful recommendation, and for opening my eyes to the world literally around me. I certainly hope to read more books by Sherman Alexie in the future!