How do I love this book? Let me count the ways...
1. Author Sherman Alexie is 200% unafraid to tell it like it is:
"You have to leave this reservation."
"I'm going to Spokane with my dad later."
"No, I mean you have to leave the rez forever... You were right to throw that book at me. I deserve to get smashed in the face for what I've done to Indians. Every white person on this rez should get smashed in the face. But, let me tell you this. All the Indians should get smashed in the face too."
I was shocked. Mr. P was furious.
"The only thing you kids are being taught is how to give up. Your friend Rowdy, he's given up. That's why he likes to hurt people. He wants them to feel as bad as he does... All these kids have given up. All your friends. All the bullies. And your mothers and fathers have given up too...But not you, you can't give up. You won't give up. Your threw that book in my face because somewhere inside you refuse to give up."
2. No matter how bleak things become for Junior, he always keeps his sense of humor. I lost track of how many times I laughed out loud while reading this book. On top of the "ha ha" kind of funny stuff, the ability to laugh, regardless of circumstance, remained an important part of Junior's story:
" For about two minutes, we all sat quiet. Who knew what to say? And then my mother started laughing.
And that set us all off.
Two thousand Indians laughed at the same time.
We kept laughing.
It was the most glorious noise I'd ever heard.
And I realized that, sure, Indians were drunk and sad and displaced and crazy and mean, but, dang, we knew how to laugh."
3. It made me think about the messages I send to my students:
"Okay, so it's like each of these books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all of the books ever written, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn."
"Yes, yes, yes, yes," Gordy said. "Now doesn't that give you a boner?"
"I am rock hard," I said.
Gordy blushed. "Well, I don't mean boner in the sexual sense... But you should approach each book - you should approach life - with the real possibility that you might get a metaphorical boner at any point."
"A metaphorical boner!" I shouted. "What the heck is a metaphorical boner?"
Gordy laughed. "When I say boner, I really mean joy."
... He was an extremely weird dude. But he was the smartest person I'd ever known.
Gosh. Now I'm not at all saying that I'm going to go around talking to my kiddos about metaphorical boners, but wouldn't you just love to be able to get a teenage boy that excited about learning?!
4. Ellen Forney's illustrations are brilliant. The story would just not have been as supremely wonderful without her additions.
5. It forced me to seriously reconsider my reading habits. When I think, "Multicultural literature," or when I even think, "Hmmmm, what will I read next?" I never think, "American Indians!" Sherman Alexie has opened my eyes to a whole world of literature that I had previously been missing.
PS: If you are looking for more information on American Indians in children's and YA lit, check out this fantastic blog: American Indians in Childrens Literature. It will change the way you think about what you read.
6. I fell head over heels in love with the characters. No one was without flaws, but everyone touched my heart. That sounds so geeky. But it is true. Rowdy, Mary Runs Away, Penelope, Grandmother Spirit... If I started scribing my favorite quotes for each character, I would never be able to stop. Which brings me me to...
7. This book is quite possibly the most quotable book I've ever read. Here are just a few more of my favorites:
- "If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing."
- "I didn't know what to say to her. What do you say to people when they ask you how it feels to lose everything? When every planet in your solar system has exploded?"
- "I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.
And the tribe of cartoonists.
And the tribe of chronic masturbators.
And the tribe of teenage boys.
And the tribe of small-town kids.
And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners.
And the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers.
And the tribe of poverty.
And the tribe of funeral-goers.
And the tribe of beloved sons.
And the tribe of boys who really miss their best friends.
It was a huge realization."
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is not just a book. It is an experience that I am thankful to have had.