Note: I fit another book into my reading this month and read it last night, January 31st, so though I’m reviewing it technically in February, it was read during January. When I saw this at the library yesterday, I immediately grabbed it up because of the controversy surrounding it in high schools around the country. Yay, banned books!
Diverse Elements: written by Sherman Alexie who is Native American. Features a Spokane Indian protagonist with hydrocephalus and other medical issues.
Summary: Junior, a freshman in high school, has a rough life. His dad is an alcoholic, his mother is a recovering alcoholic, his best friend is abused at home, and he himself is considered a freak because of his hydrocephalus, stutter, lisp, and seizures. Growing up on the rez is no picnic for him. His first day of high school he gets suspended for throwing a book at a teacher (which he didn’t mean to do! He wanted to hit the wall!) who later stops by his house and tells him, “If you don’t leave the reservation, you’ll die,” and confesses to Junior that his job as a white teacher was to kill Indians–culture, that is. Junior decides to take his teacher’s advice and asks to transfer to Rearden High School, a great high school 22 miles from the reservation in a farming town that is 100% white.
He quickly discovers that life at Rearden is drastically different from his home. He encounters overt racism and subtle racism. His own community, never having loved him to begin with, treats him as a traitor. He has to learn to fit in somewhere while not losing his roots. He goes through personal tragedy on a scale that his new white friends cannot understand–but at the same time, learns more about himself and his potential than he ever thought possible.
This is the year in the life of an outcast-turned-hero that takes a frank look at race, privilege, friendship, family, substance abuse, child abuse, grief and loss, and redemption.
What I Liked: It’s illustrated!! Normally, I don’t go for illustrated YA Lit (think Diary of a Wimpy Kid–the pictures get in the way of the process), but this is masterfully done and adds to the transformation of Junior.
What I Disliked: Lots of use of the word “pussy” and such. I know, I know, this is how boys may talk, but as a feminist, I dislike it.
What I Loved: Evvvveeeeerything else. Oh man. Phenomenal writing. So so so so good.
“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.”
“After my grandmother died, I felt like crawling into the coffin with her. After my dad’s best friend got shot in the face, I wondered if I was destined to get shot in the face, too.
Considering how many young Spokanes have died in care wrecks, I’m pretty sure it’s my destiny to die in a wreck, too.
Jeez, I’ve been to so many funerals in my short life.
I’m fourteen years old and I’ve been to forty-two funerals.
That’s really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.”
“And then I realized something.
I realized that my team, the Reardan Indians, was Goliath.
I mean, jeez, all of the seniors on our team were going to college. All of the guys on our team had their own cars. All of the guys on our team had iPods and cell phones and PSPs and three pairs of blue jeans and ten shirts and mother and fathers who went to church and had good jobs.
Ok, so maybe my white teammates had problems, serious problems, but none of their problems was life threatening.
But I looked over at the Wellpinit Redskins, at Rowdy.
I knew that two or three of those Indians might not have eaten breakfast that morning.
No food in the house.
I knew that seven or eight of those Indians lived with drunken mothers and fathers.
I knew that one of those Indians had a father who dealt crack and meth.
I knew two of those Indians had fathers in prison.
I knew that none of them was going to college. Not one of them.
And I knew that Rowdy’s father was probably going to beat the crap out of him for losing this game.”
“‘So, anyway,” he said. “I was reading this book about old-time Indians, about how we used to be nomadic.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“So I looked up nomadic in the dictionary, and it means people who move around, who keep moving, in search of food and water and grazing land.”
“That sounds about right.”
“Well, the thing is, I don’t think Indians are nomadic anymore. Most Indians, anyway.”
“No, we’re not,” I said.
“I’m not nomadic,” Rowdy said. “Hardly anybody on this rez is nomadic. Except for you. You’re the nomadic one.”
“No, I’m serious. I always knew you were going to leave. I always knew you were going to leave us behind and travel the world. I had this dream about you a few months ago. You were standing on the Great Wall of China. You looked happy. And I was happy for you.”
“If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.”
Final Note: After reading this last night, I looked it up online, and this is pretty freaking autobiographical. It reads as true because it IS true on many levels. Brilliantly done.