Tag Archives: alcoholism

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

unknown

This book has been around for about a decade and probably doesn’t need my feeble attempts to review it, but I read it in one sitting and then couldn’t get it out of my mind for days afterwards. Alternating between hilarity and heartbreak, this novel covers every emotion out there. The very things that make you laugh also make you cry.

Junior is 14 years old, part white, mostly Indian, and living on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. Born with hydrocephalus, he has a large head and weird eyesight and big hands and feet. He has faced mental and physical challenges his whole life, but he knows he is smart and that there is more to his life than the mocking and beatings he takes daily at the reservation school. The other Indians on the rez call him retard and faggot and after he transfers from Wellpinit High to a high school in Reardon, an apple – red on the outside, white on the inside. He’s the only Indian at Reardon, an all-white town school 22 miles from home. Well, the high school mascot is an Indian, and the name of the school sports teams is the Redskins. You can imagine how welcome he feels.

But the one thing that Junior has is hope. He doesn’t want to spend his life in an alcoholic haze, he doesn’t want to attend funerals every other week, he doesn’t want to settle for a life that is laid out bare in front of him. And he manages, through his brains and basketball skills, to make a name for himself at his new school. Which, by the way, is Arnold there.

Through it all, the good and the bad, Junior never loses his sense of humour and irony. The story of this one year in his life is about strength in the face of adversity, resilience when he is emotionally and physically knocked down once again, and finding the joy and laughter in life, even in times of sorrow and tragedy. Junior faces poverty and prejudice and death, and survives with his sense of self intact. He understands that poverty begets poverty, which in turn leads to hopelessness and belief that the life is deserved and can never be challenged or changed. He knows there is no dignity in it; the dignity must come from within the person.

Author Sherman Alexie is Spokane. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and attended Reardon High as the only Native student. This story is based on his life, and is written with a humour and honesty that so beautifully shows Junior’s relationships to his family and friends (both new and old) and the people on his reservation. His love and understanding for his family and his devotion to friends are just facets of the kindness and strength that hold him up. The reservation itself, with the generations that have lived on it and those to come, plays a prominent role in his development and outlook on his life and future.

The illustrations done by Ellen Forney throughout bring the story to life even more so. Junior spends his life drawing to express himself, and I love the various styles – the more realistic portraits of his family, honest depictions of how he views each member, and slightly more cartoonish ones for situations when he wants to express feelings and impressions.

This book is full of mature themes, and may be tough for readers at the younger end of the YA range. But it offers educators and parents the opportunity to open many avenues of discussion. It should be on everyone’s to-read list.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was published September 12th, 2007 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Other Broken Things

Unknown

A book that starts with the line “I’d cut a bitch for a cigarette right now” is going to grab you and not let go. Make no mistake, this is not an easy book to read.

On the surface, 17 year old Natalie is a child of privilege. She got drunk, drove, and got in an accident. But her dad has money and paid for a lawyer, and she got away with court ordered rehab, AA, and 100 hours community service.  There is only one problem. Nat isn’t an alcoholic.  She’s not the only one that does stupid things, she’s just the one that got caught.

Her old friends see it the same way. She can still party, right?  Why not?

Her new AA acquaintances, Kathy and Joe, think otherwise.

The two become her sponsors, and her friends, and show her what the lifelong battle with addiction looks like in human form. They wait out her anger and rebellion and self-hatred and fight their own demons at the sane time. There is acceptance, but also accountability.

Natalie is rude and self-centred, but it doesn’t stop the reader from being sympathetic. She is an addict, through and through, always trying to fill a space in her soul with an all or nothing attitude. She can’t do anything halfway; struggling under the expectations of unhappy parents, she gave up her passion because of her father’s concern about “appearances,” and she cannot face her own truth.

Natalie drinks to escape her lack of purpose. She replaces one addiction with another. But as she starts to look inward and really follow the 12 Steps, not just pay lip service to them, she begins to accept herself, and the people around her, for who each truly is. It means the end of some relationships, and the re-starting  of others.

Mom Sarah is perfectly written. Stay-at-home, shunned by her rebellious daughter and social climbing husband, she decorates for Christmas and wears holiday sweaters and bakes cookies and loves her daughter unconditionally. While Natalie can’t see it, or just doesn’t want to, Sarah will do anything for her. And as Nat begins to realize she can’t control everything around her, Sarah learns the same lesson.

Natalie’s father is a different story. So concerned for his social standing, he shuns his daughter’s challenges, and pays for treatment so that he doesn’t have to hide her away.

Christa Desir writes a story about honesty and control and hope. Admitting what you can and cannot control, and who you are truly are, is perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do. Add the burden of an addiction to make it even harder. But underneath it all, there is hope.

An incredibly tough subject that is dealt with realistically; the ending is not easy or comfortable, but then, neither is the subject. The relationship between Natalie and Joe is uncomfortable to read, but so important to the story.

There are quite a few graphic descriptions of sex; not loving relationships, but desperately grasping needy events that are shocking, and show the depth of addiction.  These scenes are not for the younger end of the YA spectrum.

Other Broken Things was published January 12th 2016 by Simon Pulse.