I started this a while ago but never finished it. I'm posting it now.
This is why everybody hates me: I just read Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and I'm struggling to find good things to say about it.
It flowed very easily, that much is true. Perhaps that's a feat, but coming from a celebrated poet, I tend to think that's just a basic prerequisite. On the other hand, though, as we know from early Ondaatje and Li-Young Lee's memoir, poets do have a tendency to strain fiction readers' patience, rather than feeding their desire for flow. On the third hand, this is not Alexie's first fiction.
That aside, the book was a muddle of no conflict, no action taken to resolve the conflict, little convincing emotion, and a poor understanding of how kids think and speak.
This is what our protag, upon finding out that they have to shoot his dog because they don't have the money to take him to the vet, says:
Dad just looked down at me with the saddest look in his eyes. He was crying. He looked weak.
I wanted to hate him for his weakness.
I wanted to hate Dad and Mom for our poverty.
I wanted to blame them for my sick dog and for all the other sickness in the world.
But I can't blame my parents for our poverty because my mother and father are the twin suns around which I orbit and my world would EXPLODE without them.
And it's not like my mother and father were born into wealth. It's not like they gambled away their family fortunes. My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people.
Adam and Eve covered their privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny hands.
Seriously, I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.
This is a fourteen-year-old boy. At the beginning of a novel. Seriously, what does he have to learn?
As the book goes on, the protag encounters problems and ... solves them. Every. Single. One. Each one solved, in one shot. Everything he does works, even when he doesn't think it's going to, even when he shoots from the hip, even when he's not trying. He's supposedly ugly and geeky, but then all he has to do is switch to a white kids' school and all of a sudden he's the star basketball player, beating up the king jock, and dating the hottest girl in school. Plus, the king jock is paying his way and giving him rides. He makes no mistakes whatsoever. All of his problems are somebody else's fault, and most of them nobody's fault, just The System's. And he overcomes them easily.
It's supposed to be a gritty, realistic portrait of the hopelessness and poverty of life on a reservation ... but also an uplifting wish-fulfillment vehicle about the Power Of One. Or something. Can't be both, dude. It really reminded me of my best fantasy lives when I was a teenager: things were only satisfying if my alter ego came from extreme poverty, suffered death and horrible loss and abuse in her family and community, but climbed up out of all of this through a combination of hard work and absurd good luck.
I'd recommend it to kids who show an annoying tendency to exotify Indians, but otherwise, what is everybody cheering about?