Books We Fake at Dinner Parties: Installment #1

This is one of those books that I say I’ve read at intimate dinner parties where people are actually just trying to set their friends up with their eligible brother who may or may not be balding, or graying at the sideburns.  I think I’ve faked reading this book around nine times and every time it’s been with a reader I greatly respected.

Usually, people fake Ulysses or knowing the psychology behind Plath’s, “Daddy.”  Not me though, I fake with young adult novels.

Sherman Alexie

Ray Ramono

I think my love of Sherman Alexie really came full circle when I realized how much he looks like Ray Romano.  This past week at the beach, with the boy’s grandparents, it was either Everybody Loves Raymond, Gun Smoke, or Local Community Television.  I realized how funny Ray Romano really is and how odd it was that I was reading my very first Sherman Alexie book while watching Everybody Loves Raymond.  Sometimes, the Universe sends you a billboard about your bookishness.   Sometimes the Universe just sends you a Doppelganger and your strange brain makes connections.

Really, I wanted to read this book so that I could confidently put it on my classroom bookshelf for borrowing.

The Absolutely True Diary of  a Part-Time Indian is the book for all young outsiders, young dweebs, young people trying to make a small difference in their lives by being different themselves.  It doesn’t hurt my love of this book that it’s been banned in part of Oregon State, has its own ban list at Marshall University, Stockton had a public vote against the book, and this blog has a lot more references to the bannings around the US.  I also wasn’t allowed to read this for book club at the teen center even though no one higher-up even lifted up the corner of one page.

I’m always up for reading a good challenged book.  I think my dad almost had a conniption when I carried home Fear of Flying by Erica Jong my sophomore year of college.  I remember my mother having a polite conversation about my dad’s fears.  I was taking a lot of Women and Gender Studies classes, so that may have just put him over the edge.  This book has almost nothing to do with that though.  (In fact, I think some of my Women and Gender Studies professors would be up in arms over how women are portrayed in Absolutely True Diary).  Honestly, like a good Weezy song the objectification of women really didn’t bother me.  (I may regret typing that.  How did we even get on this topic).

With Comics by Ellen Forney

Absolutely True Diary is the story of Arnold Spirit Jr. (Junior on the Rez and Arnold at Reardan, his off-Rez high school).  It’s the story of the experience of the teenage heart (what a mouthful).  Junior goes through the death of his loved ones, his epiphany over his sister’s dreams of romancing her way through the English language that she isn’t exactly invited to join in on, his best friend Rowdy with a nickname as real as his fists, and his life as a part-time Indian.  While I think a Non-Native American author could never write this story, I think Alexie makes Junior and the Spokane Reservation both relevant and endearing although riddled with trouble.

I find this book so appropriate for young adults.  Yes, oh dear, there’s mentions of masturbating.  BUT, and this is a big BUT – thus the all-caps, the mention of bonors is completely relevant because it’s “metaphorical bonors over books.”  I think if you read my blog regularly you can relate to that.  There’s also mention of the bowel movement.

FINALLY THE DAY HAS COME:  I am able to add the bowel movements to the books.

“So, okay, I’m going number two, and I’m sitting on the toilet, and I’m concentrating.  I’m in my Zen mode, trying to make this whole thing a spiritual experience.  I read once that Gandhi was way into his own number two.  I don’t know if he told fortunes or anything.  But I guess he thought the condition and quality of his number two revealed the condition and quality of his life.” (Side note: Have you met my father?)

“Yeah, I know, I read way too many books.  And I probably read way too many books about number two.”

Now let’s be honest, that was probably the first time I’ve been able to capture this blog so profoundly in a book.  Alexie should be awarded all the blog awards that float around the internet and give us 97 facts about himself (how does he take his cheese; melted, microwaved, sliced thin or thick).  I am so off topic all day today.

Absolutely True Diary highlights some stereotypes about Native American Culture (drinking problems, poverty, casinos), and a lot of these problems/stereotypes really spark the emotional stride in this story.  Junior is hilarious – his cartoons are powerful to understand his vision of the world, more than just his language.  I like how Alexie uses the cartoons to really highlight the young adult mind.

By Sherman Alexie

Sometimes, language can be the epic downfall of young adult books – authors can dumb down the language, or create an unrealistic character that gets a perfect score on their SATs because they’re so ahead.  In Absolutely True Diary, Junior’s language and his comics really envelop this age of absolute terror, absolute grief, absolute embarrassment, absolute lust, and above all absolute growth and dreams.

I had my best dreams when I was in eighth grade, rolling over to ninth.  I thought beyond all my hatred of science that I would be a veterinarian and easily get over my fear of watching my mother wash my howling cat, Puss, in the sink.   I had already won a short essay contest for a mother’s day giveaway and dreamed of writing the next Great American Novel, but had already given up reading by sixth grade.   I wanted to be popular, and sit at the cool lunch table and wear shorts that came much shorter than my fingertips, and pucker red lipstick onto tissues because I was pale and dramatic.  Junior is in the dream age, when we’re still children, but we see the world tinted, like the old photograph yellow that forests become just after a heavy thunderstorm.

Comic by Ellen Forney

I think there should be more books written for this age.  I would love if more books would capture the same themes that Alexie captures with Absolutely True Diary.  We are all outsiders, no matter our geographic region, our historical background, the color of our skin, the sound of our voice, the surgeries that left us bent, broken, or changed.  We are all these terrible, vulnerable, incomplete creatures that want to be wholly original and still live in a group, as one with a community.  The beginning of high school is the age where we figure out where we fit, or if we fit at all, or if we will live lonely and shy by our lockers and in classrooms.  It’s such an experimental age and it needs to be written for and about.

Junior, and his bunch of friends captures the insecurities of this time in our lives, but he also captures the ways in which we come together, and work together and use one another as tools.  My favorite characters in this whole book aren’t the bulimic heart throb, or the star basketball player, but Rowdy – the abused, and angry best friend, and Gordy – the nerdaholic.  It’s the most broken, and the most uncherished I found myself gravitating towards.  I think a lot of us imagine ourselves as the worst of what people think of us.  I’m self-obsessed, and spoiled (according to my “haters” and my mind on a bad day, and probably somewhat the truth), but we have to remember that those are the best things about us – that we have these imperfections that glisten.

11 thoughts on “Books We Fake at Dinner Parties: Installment #1

  1. Ryan says:

    I also thought this book was good, but at the same time I haven’t been banging down my door to purchase any of Alexie’s other work. I have a strange relationship with YA.

    Incidentally, I fake it with Dickens, but until recently, I was doing it unbeknownst to me. I had always thought I had read four or five of his novels but it turns out I’ve only read one.

    • Cassie says:

      Dickens is definitely that way. Apparently I raved about him to my parents in 7th grade and they thought I was a child prodigy who read Dickens in middle school. I don’t think I ever read the book I so raved about though. I really think I’ve read a lot Dickens and then I realize I’ve seen a lot of movies and heard a lot of references. You can’t be blamed for that. :)

  2. Jackie G. says:

    I never really understood why people insisted on banning books because of coarse language. Chances are, the kids who are forbidden to read these books are hearing worse language at their school lunch table. I know when I was in 7th grade, all the talk I heard about boners were not metaphorical. These kids who would talk about boners didn’t even read books, so amazing authors like Sherman Alexie couldn’t be blamed for putting these “dangerous ideas” into their head. Fear the boner and taking number-twos!

  3. valerierlawson says:

    love this book! i found his voice so authentic for a young teen. guys do talk about boners. teens do swear. they are full of raging hormones and complex/conflicting emotions. i loved the graphic aspect of the book as well. so glad you found a book to fit your blog (it could be the unofficial mascot!) i just about died when looking at the two pics of ray romano and alexie side by side. will never be able to see him differently again.

    • Cassie says:

      Are they not separated at birth twins?! I mean come on! Alexie is like the Native American version of Italian Ray. Ridiculous.

      And yes, I loved loved love that voice. I’m sad I didn’t talk about it here because it was conversationally perfect. He was right on pitch. I felt like I was having a long dinner table conversation with a thirteen year old boy who was tapping his foot and wanted to get back outside, or back to his video games. PERFECTION – you are so right.

  4. angela says:

    ha! doppleganger, love the word, love the comparison (kinda, don’t like Raymond) Anyhoo…moving along…you must read Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. If you don’t, at least watch the movie( if you’ve not), Smoke Signals (the best!) cheers ~

    • Cassie says:

      I have seen Smoke Signals – I feel like if I hadn’t, I would be living under a rock. I hope it’s a requirement in the high school classroom. EEEEEEEE. I will definitely read both of those since the recommendation is from you. Which is your favorite – I’ll read that one first.



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