After reading, discussing and generally obsessing over The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I decided to see what other Sherman Alexie gems my local library might have. His 2007 book Flight was the very first book in the paperback section. The cover’s primary colors and the story’s first sentence—“Call me Zits.”—suggested that this might be another Young Adult novel, but I ignored my nagging impulse to invent a homebound younger sibling to save face at the checkout counter. If this librarian knows anything, I thought, she’s well aware that Alexie’s Young Adult novels deal with universal issues that audiences of any age can appreciate. Two hours and many tears later, I realized that Flight was a lot more legitimately “adult” than I expected.
Flight, like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, centers on a male Indian (or half-Indian, half-Irish in Zits’ case) teenager with an alcoholic father. Both protagonists are on a journey towards self-discovery while faced with adversity. The similarities, though, essentially begin and end with these basic details. While Junior is optimistic, sensitive, and hard working, Zits is a dangerous troublemaker determined to spread his misery and anger around. Flight’s inclusion of extreme violence—including mass murder, terrorism, police brutality, and a few especially bloody events in American history—make it a rather shocking, in-your-face read that validated my feeling of how tame The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian really was.
Both books deal with important issues that are present in the lives of teenagers and adults alike, but The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is presented in a way that younger audiences can digest and understand. After reading Flight, I recognized how important the illustrations were to the readability and effectiveness of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. They served to lighten the mood and give the mind and heart a moment’s rest from the heavy subject matter. Flight hit hard from cover to cover, offering no such respite.
With Diary, Alexie did what a great author should do: tell an intriguing story through tight, dynamic prose, create relevant and memorable characters, and ultimately inspire his readers to explore more of his work. It is frustrating, then, to think about young readers who may miss out on this or other Alexie books because of school bans. I can understand why a book like Flight would not be used in schools. But The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is clearly an age-appropriate book that all schools can and should use to teach about contemporary Native American life and the general teenage experience. The book’s few “provocative” details about alcoholism and sex that any teenager with a television or plain old hormones is already quite familiar with should not deter schools from using this important novel.