Being from the NorthWest, I’ve heard of Sherman Alexie once or twice in my life. And by that, I mean that I’ve read his short story “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” in at least four different classes. But one thing I’ve never read by him is his YA novel, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, published in 2007. I picked up a copy from the local library, and flipped through the first couple pages while walking to my car. By the time I got in and had my key in the ignition, it was another 15 minutes before I left. I was so engrossed in the hilarious yet honest account of Junior as he deals with life on the Spokane Indian reservation that it was hard to pull myself away. It deals with such hard Native-American Relations issues such as race (obviously) but also alcohol, segregation, poverty, family and tradition. He does so in such a way as to make it accessible to young adults, and even funny:
What kid hasn’t had to lie his way out of a potentially embarrassing situation? None! Even going through some of the trickier stuff such as death and racial prejudices, this book cleanly and effectively creates an understanding of the issues.
It wasn’t until I put it down that I realized too why I so loved this book. It follows very closely the story line of my favorite Disney movie of all time: The Little Mermaid! She is a “fish that is too big for her pond” so to speak, and wants to better her life by joining the people on the other side of the fence, exactly akin to Junior. She finds her prince (Penelope, in Junior’s case) and is guided through her journey by her fishy friends (Rowdy and Gordy).
This astounded me and it took several days of stewing for me to come to grips with the situation. Now, I for one am a merciless critic of repetitious or “copy cat” texts or films. Avatar, for example, was nearly word for word the same plot as Pocahontas or Fern Gully. But with Sherman Alexie’s text, I wasn’t struck by the same feeling. Perhaps it is because I enjoyed it so much for what it was in itself (if you remove the special effects, its astounding how horribly boring Avatar is). But perhaps I was defeated by the age-old saying that every great story has already been told. And what’s so bad about remediation anyways? It’s just putting the same object into a different context, or putting on a different lens of perception in order to create a better understanding of the issue. And isn’t that the point? Enjoying a story for what it is, and not what it copies?
Maybe I’m reading too much into the text. After all, this blog is about reading 1001 books, and not analyzing a single book in 1001 ways. But I believe there was a lesson learned: don’t judge a book by its archetypal structure, and when it comes to life, laughing and crying are the same thing, basically.