Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

November 28, 2007

DiaryAlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie

pub. Little, Brown Young Readers, 240 pp.

WOW! Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. And if this weren’t a student oriented blog, I’d say something that began with “Holy…”

I got to hear Sherman Alexie speak at the ALAN conference last week and was quite taken with him. While he spoke about things that were awful, unfair, and almost inhuman, he had the uncanny ability to make us laugh at the same time. This in no way belittled the things he was talking about, but rather it brought them into a clearer focus.

Unfortunately, one of the few books not included in the ALAN box, was Alexie’s. So, even though I have over 70 new books to read and share, I went directly to my local bookstore and bought both of his new books (this YA novel, and his most recent adult book as well).

It certainly didn’t take me long to tear through Diary, either. This is an amazing book. It tells the story of a 14 year old boy who has grown up on an Indian reservation. When he finds his mother’s maiden name written in his freshman geometry text book, he realizes that he needs to leave the ‘rez’, to do something else, if he ever wants to become more than what he sees around him . The rez is so poor, that he has been given a 30 year old text book. Things just don’t change on the rez.

What ensues when he changes schools and starts attending a far more privileged school for whites in a neighboring town, is the focus of the book. Not only is he the only Indian other than the mascot at his new school, but he is treated as a traitor by those on the rez, including his ex-best friend.

This book is outright funny in many places. Alexie’s timing and wry look at the world left me laughing out loud in many places. However, in many of these very same places I found myself thinking that I should be crying at the same time. Just because he uses humor, don’t think that Alexi pulls any, and I mean any, punches. For example, when talking about the poverty on the rez and the reality that his father would need to shoot a beloved pet because they couldn’t afford to take him to the vet, the narrator says, “I wanted to run faster than the speed of sound, but nobody, no matter how much pain they’re in, can run that fast. So I heard the boom of my father’s rifle when he shot my best friend. A bullet only costs about 2 cents, and anyone can afford that.”

All in all, this is an amazing story. The dual pressures that the narrator lives under – to be Junior,  the member of his family and his tribe on the reservation, and to be Arnold, the basketball playing, possibly college bound student at his new school – clash violently and often in unexpected places, and yet Arnold still finds beauty and happiness. The book’s subject matter is at times painful, depressing, and often pokes at open sores, and yet it is still a positive, hopeful, and ultimately triumphant book.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fabulous pick for, and completely deserving of the National Book Award that it just won.

Again, WOW.

5stars 5!

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Lessons From a Dead Girl

November 26, 2007

Lessons from a Dead GirlLessons From a Dead Girl

Jo Knowles

pub. Candlewick, 224 pp

One of my problems, as an adult, with young adult fiction is that, to me, it is often completely predictable. After I have read the first ten or fifteen pages, the story arc is all laid out, the ending is as clear as a bell, and I can just sit back and follow along. Now I also know that when kids read these books, they often do not have the experience, both literary and real life, to pick up on these clues. Because of this, the predictability factor is, again sometimes, not so important, and I have trained myself to look past it in most of my YA reading. However, I do make note of it for myself. So it is always a pleasure to find a story that either breaks this mold or winds up in a different place than I expected.

Having said that, when I sat down to read Lessons From a Dead Girl, Jo Knowles’ debut novel, within a few pages my prediction engine was in full swing. I thought I had this tale of two girls who are best friends and the abuse that one of the girls subjects the other to, completely figured out. Happily, although this is no way a ‘happy’ story, I found that Knowles did not follow the easy path, and her story is not at all formulaic or trite.

In fifth grade, Leah chooses Laine to be her new best friend. This is a big deal for Laine as Leah is one of the most popular girls in school. Laine, on the other hand, is not. As time passes, their friendship grows and we see some well developed scenes that confirm their commitment to each other. However, at the same time, Leah takes Laine deeper and deeper into a world of sexual and emotional abuse. That this abuse takes place in Laine’s childhood play space, only strengthens its impact on Laine. It is Laine’s confusion about and struggle with what Leah is doing that drives the story. How could someone who is her best friend be doing these things? And why doesn’t Laine do something to stop it?

A difficult story of trust, secrets, betrayal, and a search for self, Lessons From a Dead Girl, is an engaging book. It deals with some very serious topics, in an open and honest way, and as such brings its readers face to face with an often untold aspect of growing up.

For mature readers.

4star 4

On a related note, I got to spend a fair amount of time with Jo Knowles at the ALAN conference in New York, last week. Both talking to her as a person and listening to her presentation at ALAN, I got the feeling that she is a very thoughtful, caring person, and this is also evident in her writing. I enjoyed getting to know her, and will definitely be on the lookout for future books by her.

She also volunteered to come into my classroom to talk about writing, etc. – since she lives close by – and I will definitely be looking into this possibility.