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

Arnold Spirit is a teenager living on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington, where everyone calls him Junior.  As a baby, he was hydrocephalic, which caused seizures, poor vision, and a perception from his peers that he was different.  Most of the others on the rez picked on him, except his family, and his closest friend, Rowdy.  Rowdy was a tough guy and would fight anybody over anything, especially anyone who got too rough with Junior.

Beginning high school at the rez became a turning point for Junior.  He got upset that the textbooks were so old his mom’s name was in them.  He was suspended for throwing the book, which hit the teacher, Mr. P.  During his suspension, Mr. P visited Junior and convinced him to get his education off the reservation.

Most of the Indians picked on Junior because he was different, now they picked on him because he was a traitor for leaving the rez.

Reardon was Junior’s new school, it was twenty miles from the rez.  Sometimes his dad was sober enough to drop him off and pick him up, but every once in a while, Junior had to walk. He was the only Indian at the white school, and it was a rough start for him.   He was half white at the rez, and half indian at the school.  It took some time but Junior found his place, realizing he was as smart and athletic as anybody at Reardon.  While finding himself there, he also lost some close friends and family back home.  Rowdy believed he was a traitor and went for blood during the high school basketball game. Alcohol was also a major contributor to the losses at the rez.

Reading this book, I was reminded of the character’s in NS Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, which focuses on an American Indian’s struggle with modernization- living in the white world. It is a struggle between balancing everything your family knows and has held on to for centuries, or going out on your own to find a better life.  A struggle of honoring your ancestors to keep the culture alive or turning your back on them to leave the rez. It is a tough battle, and many on the rez don’t fight it.  They stay and become prisoners there.

Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury’s 1953 book about a future society that devalues books, creates a dystopian society in which the firemen burn books.  I’ve read that the original intent of the book was to show society’s change from a book reading bunch to a television/radio centered people who lose the value and importance of reading.  Some can even argue that the internet has pushed that even further now.  As a teacher, I beam when I see a student bring a paper and ink friend to the classroom and pick it up during short bits of free-time instead of getting on the snapchats and racing games with the school-issued iPad.  I hate to interrupt them, but I try to make a point to ask the students about the books they’ve brought and if they are enjoying them.  Honestly, I would not have been one of those students, but now I just feel like I’m so far behind, so many good books like F451 to catch up on!

F451 opens with the book-burning fireman, Guy Montag, walking home and meeting a strange young girl named Clarisse who is enjoying a walk outside.  She asks him strange questions and afterward, Montag can’t take his mind off of the questions.  His wife, Millie, is addicted to the TV, which she calls her ‘family’.  They have 3 wall-to-wall TVs in the living room and the current popular program uses technology to include the viewer in the programs by adding the user’s name to the program as if they are a part of it.  The Montags are currently saving up to install the fourth and final TV wall.  That night, Millie overdoses on sleeping pills, and Guy calls the hospital, which sends two technicians to pump the pills out of her stomach.  They make it seem like a common thing, and they are in-and-out in no time.

As a fireman, Montag burns books, and his run-in with Clarisse makes him question many things about his job.  He had heard once that firemen used to put out fires, which his boss and coworkers think would be ridiculous! As the story builds, Montag reveals to his wife that he has been saving a book here and there as he went to houses to burn them.  She is horrified and begs him to burn the books in the home incinerator.  When the fire captain, Beatty, learns of the books, he hints that Montag has 24 hours to burn them or turn them in to him.  Later at the firehouse, the men are called to bring their kerosene and burn up another house with books. As the ‘Salamander’ fire truck pulls up the house, Montag’s worst nightmare has come true, he must burn his own home, and books!

I’ll leave the summary there and let the reader continue on their own if they haven’t had the pleasure of reading this cautionary tale.

In this short novel, Bradbury does a brilliant job of character and plot development.  At first I wasn’t a fan of Montag as he did society’s job of burning books. The more the story developed I felt myself rooting for him and hoping he got away with all the books he had saved.  I liked the story a lot and I’ll probably save it and read it again when I need it.

Rating **********10/10

Twitter: @blookworm