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Alexie's 'Absolutely True Diary'


Seattle writer, poet and filmmaker Sherman Alexie has written a number of stories about American-Indian life. Now, he's published a first young adult novel, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." It's about a 14-year-old high school kid named Junior from a reservation in the Northwest.

Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Every book is a mystery, writes Junior in his diary, recounting a chat with a schoolmate. And if you read all the books ever written, he goes on to say, it's like you've read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there's so much more you need to learn.

This is the stuff of Alexie's novel, made up of entries by our kid hero, Junior, over the course of a tough school year. Junior, or Arnold Spirit as he's known off the reservation, loves basketball and cartooning, but he realizes early on that you've got to get off the reservation if he's going to keep his mind and soul intact.

At school, he's beaten up and knocked down by just about every kid except his best friend, Rowdy, and even Rowdy knocks him down now and then, and brings him to tears. So Arnold convinces his poor, devoted parents to enroll him at Reardan, a rural white school not far away. Arnold gets picked on at Reardan, too, but he fights back and wins a place in the in crowd, and a pale-faced bulimic girlfriend, and a spot in the varsity basketball team.

Most of the plot here is not so much a mystery as it is a lively surprise. Junior, or Arnold, is a nerdy but sympathetic kid who weeps at the drop of a hat, vomits from fear and nervousness, and draws whimsical cartoons to illustrate his story created for the book by Seattle artist Ellen Forney. This is a story about surviving small town schools, which any young adult reader can benefit from. I don't mind telling you that this reader, rather late into young adulthood himself, found Alexie's novel an absolute delight.

SIEGEL: The novel is "The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. His latest work of fiction is called "The Fires." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.

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