Tag Archives: Native Americans

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie

If you’ve never read Sherman Alexie’s work, you may think of him only as “that Native American writer.” And his books (novels, short stories, essays, and poetry) do deal with the experience of modern-day Native Americans. But his work cannot be so easily categorized. More than anything, he writes about the human experience—friends, family, work, bad luck, mundane struggles, and unexpected pleasures. His voice is funny, insightful, reflective, sometimes bitter, but always true.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Alexie’s first book for young adults, and it’s a superb read (for teens and adults alike). Arnold “Junior” Spirit is a smart kid with a talent for drawing. But at his run-down school on the Spokane Indian Reservation, he doesn’t have much of a chance at a future. So he decides to emigrate—he transfers to a nearby high school, off the reservation. This is the story of a stranger in his own land, someone out of place at school and at home—and honestly, what teenager hasn’t felt like that? This book deals with touchy subjects in honest, profane language, but it’s no worse than what many high schoolers hear every day.

Read if you enjoyed: Ricochet River by Robin Cody, King Dork by Frank Portman

Look for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian at Multnomah County Library

“Papillon” by Henri Charrière

The story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière’s imprisonment and multiple escape attempts would have made for an implausible novel—as a memoir, it is riveting. In the 1930s, Charrière was convicted of murder and sentenced to hard labor in the penal colony on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. The book recounts his life in detail—the voyage to the colony, his friends and enemies, his escape attempts, adventures during his brief stints of freedom, solitary confinement, and the inhumane grind of daily life in a French prison. It’s no spoiler to say that he survived, but the lengths he went to in order to create a normal life are astounding, and made me hold my breath in anticipation.

Read if you enjoyed: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

Look for Papillon at Multnomah County Library