We started the discussion about Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by listening to a few passages from the audiobook, read by the author. One member had recommended the sing-song, story-telling rendition, which is particularly effective in bringing the narration to life. I then mentioned the book as a winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young Adult fiction, which prompted the questions: What makes a novel young-adult versus adult? Illustrations? Style? Audience? Economics? Geography (mentioned by a member after the meeting)?
When I finally got around to asking if anyone wanted to share first impressions, the room was silent. This was the first time in 18 months that no one spoke up! Slowly, we began discussing the young-adult focus, friendship, poverty, and personal experiences. One member wondered how many of us had ever thought of Indian reservations as the Rez before. Human greed, current events, books and movies — as usual, I found new and interesting perspectives throughout. Clearly most, probably all, members enjoyed the book — but the discussion was challenging. We were just hitting our stride as it was time to go. One member brought up the author’s strong emphasis on the destructive prevalence of alcoholism. Someone mentioned the changing perceptions of names, lyrics, and slurs. Another mentioned that he has read much about Native Americans, but that he learned more about life on Indian reservations from this book than from any other.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is an engaging and powerful novel – as straightforward as its title – filled with humor, tragedy, hyperbole, and truth. I would definitely categorize the book as young adult; but, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, or To Kill a Mockingbird, it should be read by adults. Although I wouldn’t want to lose anything shared, I wish we could have kept discussing! But we can always do so, here, or on our own, with family and friends. The thing about a good book is that it can – and should – be passed around and brought up again and again and again.
So, if you were unable to attend the meeting or would like to add your thoughts about the book, please comment here and continue the discussion!
- Other works mentioned:
- Zelig (DVD) Woody Allen, 1983
- Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington, 1996
- Rabbit Proof Fence (DVD) 2002
- Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, 2003
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1960
- The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, 2011