Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of Arnold “Junior” Spirit’s freshman year in high school.
I know. Sounds fascinating, huh? (This is perhaps why my queries are getting rejected: I can make even a great book sound boring…)
Well, despite my riveting summary, the book is amazing. From the first line – “I was born with water on the brain” – Junior’s conversational voice captured my heart. He made me laugh out loud, and I rarely laugh out loud while reading (not even when reading my beloved Jane Austen, who makes me smile like crazy but not laugh audibly). In fact, I bought the book because of these lines on page 3:
I started wearing glasses when I was three, so I ran around the rez looking like a three-year-old Indian grandpa.
And, oh, I was skinny. I’d turn sideways and disappear.
But my hands and feet were huge. My feet were a size eleven in third grade. With my big feet and pencil body, I looked like a capital L walking down the road.
And my skull was enormous.
My head was so big that little Indian skulls orbited around it.
I stood in the bookstore laughing so hard my shoulders shook, and I knew I had to read this book – now. That wasn’t the last time I laughed out loud.
But I also cried. This is a tragic, tragic book in so many ways. And yet I did not come away from it feeling only sad (though I felt that, to be sure). I came away feeling like the world is a beautiful, terrible place, and I am so glad to be alive in it. I came away feeling hopeful.
As a writer, I was also fascinated to see how many of the so-called rules of novel writing Alexie broke. And it worked. It more than worked. It won a National Book Award, for heaven’s sake! (To learn more about why it worked, check out the the Story Sleuths blog: they’re analyzing the book chapter-by-chapter all month.) I am always interested to learn which writing rules can be broken and when and why and with what effect. I’ll be learning from this book for a long time to come.