Scoop of the e-e-evening: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
By Sherman Alexie

I had reservations (no pun intended) about this National Book Award-winning novel—would it be littered with politically-correct Romanticism, preying on the emotions with descriptions of oppressed “Native American” life? In one respect, at least, Alexie proved my fears wrong, never once using any term but “Indian.” I mean, how many white people go around calling themselves Anglo-Saxons?

Arnie Spirit is a rez boy with no future. Booze is killing everyone around him, by inches and by big bangs. He’s smart, but what does that matter in a place where nobody pays attention to dreams? That’s why Arnie decides to switch schools, to leave the rez. The choice transforms him from an invisible nobody to a persecuted “apple": red on the outside, pure white underneath.

Alexie’s voice snapped, crackled and popped off the page—you can hear the whole book, a comfortable conversation on the sofa. Only problem is, as Arnie puts it, “That’s one more thing people don’t know about Indians: we love to talk dirty.” There should have been a disclaimer. Maybe Alexie thinks he’s just writing realistically, just getting down on the reader’s level, but I say, why encourage teenage boys to talk that way? It’s not an asset.

The story is engaging and alive, but bogged down by so much language that I’d never willingly recommend it to any of my patrons. Why don’t people write and honor books the whole family can relish? The talent is out there.

8 comments:

Sookie said...

I've heard about this book. It looks...interesting.
I agree with you--I think the over-use of nasty language just takes away from the writing, not adds.

Janet Rubin said...

Thanks so much for all these reviews, Lady N. I'm into reading YA fiction for two reasons (actually three): 1. I have two little ones who will be reading it with me soon. 2. I'm trying to write it. and 3. It's just fun. You are a valuable resource as I choose what to read. Thanks!

Maw Books said...

I just added this book to my TBR pile last week and was looking forward to it. But I hate bad language in books. I can handle quite a bit, but when it becomes over the top it becomes distracting. Is there a lot?

Carrie said...

Thanks for your review! The title looked intriguing but I think based on your recommendation I would pass on it. I agree that such language isn't really an asset and why encourage people in the habit of it? That is not to say that all books with language shoudl be avoided but given who this book is addressed to -- I think you've come to a great conclusion. Thanks for sharing!

Noel De Vries said...

Thanks for stopping by, Maw books and Carrie!

I guess I wouldn't say the language is over the top ... there's a lot, but it's not every other word. An example of extended focus is when two boys discuss getting a boner from reading really great books. Is that simile necessary??

The Maelstroms Themselves said...

I'm afraid I'll have to disagree. The language is not written in to shock, and not to condescend either. People simply do speak that way to each other in high school. For a novel categorized as "realistic fiction", Sherman Alexie does a brilliant job of relaying an actual high school experience and does not deign to "skirting" the edges of what is, in the literary world, acceptable. To most teenagers, his avoiding the facts, would be more offensive than the use of language or sexual dialogue.

With deepest respect,
*Aella Siofra*

Noel De Vries said...

Thanks for your comment, Aella. I agree with you that the language is not written to shock, but to be realistic.

However, a year ago I was a teenager. I know teens who never talk like Arnie, and teens who do. Those who do are the most likely to enjoy a book with rough language. They are also the least likely to ever pick up a novel.

Where language is rough, 99% of the time the home is rough. The encouragment these kids need from fictional heros is not the encouragment to talk dirty.

Alexie's message may be get out of the ghetto, but the way he uses language points readers right back in.

Thanks again for stopping by. Aella. I appreciate your input. Respectfully taken.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I agree with your take on the language in this book. As great as the story probably is, it simply wasn't worth it for me to wade through it. I quit a couple of chapters in. Although I haven't been a teen for almost twenty years, I didn't speak like that then, and I know plenty of teens who don't today