The book for January is The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. We have posted information about the author and a reading guide. It might be helpful to take a look at the reading guide AFTER you read the book but before you attend the meeting. The guides always seem to provide good insight, and help to facilitate better discussion. The Meetup will be held at SaLa Thai Restaurant in Downtown Lancaster. This is also our "Make-up for missing December" Annual Holiday Book Exchange. Bring a book (or a few) that you have read, to trade for one (or a few) that you have not. Happy Holidays all around!!! Hope to see you in January!
About the Author
Sherman Joseph Alexie, Jr. (born October 7, 1966) is a poet, writer, and filmmaker. Much of his writing draws on his experiences as a Native American growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He currently lives in Seattle, Washington. His first novel, Reservation Blues, received one of the fifteen 1996 American Book Awards. His first young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is a semi-autobiographical novel that won the 2007 U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature and the Odyssey Award as best 2008 audiobook for young people (read by Alexie himself). His collection of short stories and poems, entitled War Dances, won the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live. 288 pages
1. Consider the adjectives, "absolutely true" and "part-time." What concepts appear to be emphasized by the image and the title? Does the cover appear to reference Junior's internal struggle, or a struggle between Junior and the white power structure, or both, or neither?
2. By drawing cartoons, Junior feels safe. He draws "because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me." How do Junior's cartoons (for example, "Who my parents would have been if somebody had paid attention to their dreams" and "white/Indian") show his understanding of ways the racism has deeply impacted his and his family's lives?
3. When Junior is in Rearden (the white town), he is "half Indian," and when he is in Wellpinit (his reservation), he is "half white." "It was like being Indian was my job," he says, "but it was only a part-time job. And it doesn't pay well at all." At Reardan High, why does Junior pretend he has more money than he does, even though he knows "lies have short shelf lives?"
4. Junior describes his reservation as "located approximately one million miles north of important and two billion miles west of Happy." Yet when he and Rowdy look down from almost the top of an immense pine, he says, "We could see our entire world. And our entire world, at that moment, was green and golden and perfect." What force drives the dichoto
my of Juniors perceptions of his world and allow him to see the land in apparently disparate ways?
5. Cultural outsiders who write young adult fiction tend to romanticize the impoverishment of Indians. Junior is having none of this: "It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing that you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's
nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons
about perserverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor." How does Junior's direct language address this stereotypical portrayal of Indians? What about his language draws the teen reader into the realities of his life.
6. Junior's parents, Rowdy's father, and others in their community are addicted to alcohol, and Junior's white "friend with potential," Penelope, has bulimia. "There are all kinds of addicts, I
guess " he says. "We all have pain. And we all look for ways to make the pain go away." Compared to the characters in Jon Hassler's young adult novel, Jemmy (Antheneum, 1980), how does Junior's understanding of addiction transcend ethnicity and class?
7. Junior refers to his home reservation as "the rez," a familiar name for the place he was born, the places his friends and relatives for many generations back were born and are buried, and the land to which he is tied that, no matter how bad things get, will now and forever be called "home." What would Junior think of a cultural outsider, such as Ian Frazier, who visits a reservation to gather material for a book and then calls his book "On the Rez.”
8. At Junior's grandmother's funeral, Junior's mother publicly gives a white billionaire his comeu
ppance to the delight of the whole community. "And then my mother started laughing," Junior says. "And that set us all off. It was the most glorious noise I've ever heard. And I realized that, sure, Indians were drunk and sad and displaced and crazy and me an but, dang, we knew how to laugh. When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing. And so, laughing and crying, we said goodbye to my grandmother. And when we said goodbye to one grandmother, we said goodbye to all of them. Each funeral was a funeral for all of us. We lived and died together." How does this reflect a cultural insider's perspective and how does it disrupt stereotypes about stoic Indians?
9. "I'm fourteen years old and I've been to forty-two funerals," Junior says, "That's really the biggest difference between Indians and white people." In the community of Wellpinit, everyone is related, everyone is valued, everyone is at risk for an early death, and the loss of one person is a loss to the community. Compare Wellpinit to Reardan, whose residents have greater access to social services, health care, and wealth, and people are socially distanced from each other. How does Junior use this blunt, matter-of-fact statement to describe this vast gulph between an impoverished Indian community and a middle-class white town just a few miles away?
10. In many ways, Junior is engulphed by the emotional realities of his life and his community. Yet his spare, matter-of-fact langauge and his keen sense of irony help him to confront and negotiate the hurt, the rage, and the senselessness of Wellpinit's everyday realities. How does Junior use language to lead readers, whose lives may be very different from his own, to the kind of understanding that they will not get from young adult fiction whose writers do not have this kind of lived experience?