Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

absolutely-true-diaryTitle: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Ellen Forney
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 230 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

This is one book that I feel like I missed out on reading during my high school years, and I’ve always been sad about it; I’ve even owned a copy for at least 3 years, and I still wasn’t able to read it until recently, so finishing this was somewhat of a personal accomplishment for me. Not because it’s such a hard book or anything, but because this is a recent classic that I’ve been wanting to read for so long. It feels especially close to me, because while I am very much not related to any Native Americans, my grandfather lived in Spokane, WA for almost all his life, and he even lived on the Spokane reservation with his girlfriend for a large part of his later life, so it’s interesting to get a sense of the place my grandfather called home.

First, I have to say that this book is lovely. It’s about a boy named Junior who lives on the Indian reservation in Spokane, and he decides to go to the “white” high school to try to build a future for himself. I was able to read through it quickly because it’s a pretty easy read and it is so, so entertaining and hits on some very real, true-life events that were inspired by Alexie’s own life. It’s wonderful that this book is out there for teens to read when they’re feeling like an outsider, because the main character is pretty much the ultimate outsider in a lot of ways and reading about his feelings about that and how he deals with it is somehow comforting.

What makes this Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a success is the fact that it covers everything. It’s funny and yet incredibly heartbreaking, reflecting real life in a way that most stories don’t even come close to, which I think is a reflection of its large autobiographical influence. It comes across as honest and genuine, which is something that is lacking in fiction sometimes, and which YA fiction especially needs. The illustrations are an added bonus and give further insight into Junior’s character and his overall mood at the time he’s “writing” his diary entries. They’re incorporated well and I loved reading Forney’s explanations for why each illustration was done the way it was.

There’s a reason why this is such a classic, and I don’t know what I can say that others haven’t, except that I personally liked this a lot and think it belongs on the must-read lists of everyone, because it is such a powerful, wonderful story.

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Book Review: Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse

sevendaysofyouTitle: Seven Days of You
Author: Cecilia Vinesse
Publisher: Little, Brown
Hardcover: 336 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Anticipated Publishing Date: 7 March 2017
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.

Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016. All opinions are my own.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First, I have to say, that I was a little wary going into this, as I’m not a huge fan of young adult romances that are only romances — I think they either become vapid or too melodramatic, and I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case with this one. Luckily, it very much wasn’t, and I give Vinesse all the credit in the world for writing an incredibly grounded, realistic portrayal of a relationship that might happen at that stage of someone’s life.

The balance between Sophia dealing with her departure from Tokyo and also exploring her new relationship is beautiful. It’s nice to see that both of these situations are fully dealt with within the book — Sophia’s anger at leaving, confusion, and fear for what is to come next, and then her happiness for finding this new connection with Jamie, and the fear of what’s to come if she falls too far in. I think, in a way, most relationships start out with that fear, even without the imminent threat of what would very much be a long-distance relationship, so I think that feeling is incredibly relatable. Where is this going? Can we be feeling this so quickly? What if I really love this person, but it doesn’t work out? Even within the span of seven days, Jamie and Sophia don’t seem to fall for each other too quickly, although it helps that they knew each other before that week.

Mostly, though, this book is about self-discovery and self-awareness. In departing from the country she’s lived in most of her life, Sophia is able to take a closer look at her relationships and how she’s being treated by her friends and family. It’s a lovely coming-of-age sort of thing where she realizes that some people she’s been fighting hard to have relationships with are really not being good people to her, so she has to re-evaluate what’s really important spending effort on. Again, while Sophia’s situation is at an extreme, I think we can all relate to being put in a situation where we need to re-think what’s going on in our lives, so reading about Sophia’s journey of self-discovery is satisfying and rewarding in that we can self-reflect and compare her decisions to ones that we are currently making, or once made.

I very much appreciated this book for what it was — a second chance for two people to reconnect and forgive each other for past miscommunications and to explore their feelings for each other. The tension is kept strong through the short timeline of the seven days that Sophia has left in Tokyo, and it makes it a fast read, because everything is so condensed and there’s no time for anything to be drawn out. At the same time, nothing is rushed because of that, and I give Vinesse a lot of credit for not feeling the need to rush Sophia and Jamie’s relationships. It’s taken at a reasonable, moderate pace, and ends on a hopeful note, which I very much enjoyed. I can’t recommend this book enough for being everything you want in a young adult romance and containing none of the common cringe-worthy or exasperating tropes. Pick it up when you get a chance.

Book Review: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David SedarisTitle: Me Talk Pretty One Day
Author: David Sedaris
Publisher: LittleBrown and Company
Paperback: 272 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

David Sedaris’ move to Paris from New York inspired these hilarious pieces, including the title essay, about his attempts to learn French from a sadistic teacher who declares that “every day spent with you is like having a caesarean section”.

His family is another inspiration. You Can’t Kill the Rooster is a portrait of his brother, who talks incessant hip-hop slang to his bewildered father. And no one hones a finer fury in response to such modern annoyances as restaurant meals presented in ludicrous towers of food and cashiers with six-inch fingernails.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This has been on my to-read list for way too  long, and I’ve been trying to wait until the audiobook’s availability on OverDrive and my available free time to listen to an audiobook reached a happy meeting point, but it never did. So, I checked out a printed version of this collection, and I have to admit I regret it just a little bit.

There is nothing like hearing David Sedaris read his own essays — the intonation and life he gives to them is astounding, and I live for listening to his audiobooks. I think this is the first time I’ve actually ever read his essays in print, and to be fair, it wasn’t as disappointing as I thought it would be. Even without his voice to clue me in on his sarcasm, his essays were still pretty funny.

With that said, I think this collection is sadder than most. My favorite collection of his is still When You Are Engulfed in Flames. While this one has funny moments, I found a lot of it to be depressing, hence my rating. But, the ones I did enjoy, I really enjoyed. The speech therapy story is ridiculous and perfect and has everything about school that I hated. There are also a few stories about him trying to acclimate himself to France and learn the French language. His essays about living in France from When You Are Engulfed in Flames are among my favorite from that collection, and it’s no different from this collection. There’s just something wonderfully hysterical about how Sedaris looks at his own experiences of adapting to a new culture and new language.

Overall, I enjoyed myself. If you’re at all into humorous creative non-fiction essays, then I’d say you should give these a shot. I think I’m going to put a hold on the audiobook for Me Talk Pretty One Day to see if I enjoy it anymore. I particularly want to hear Sedaris read his speech therapy story.

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

where'd you go, bernadetteTitle: Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Publisher: Little, Brown
Hardcover: 330 pages
Source: Borrowed from Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

The story behind this book: Andrew’s cousin Liz once recommended this to me while we were visiting her during spring break. We were so busy exploring Seattle, however, that I never got around reading to it. So, when our local book club had this listed as the book they were reading next, we both thought that it’d be a good way to: read the same book at the same time, finally read the book his cousin recommended so long ago, and meet new people in the process.

ALYSSA

I had a hard time getting into this, but once it got going, I was fully immersed. I think that Semple does a really good job of finding the humor in intense situations and really plays that up in this book, which I found enjoyable.

The best moments for me were the crazy PTA parents and Bernadette’s ways of getting back at them. In a lot of ways, I identified with Bernadette, which is kind of scary, but I’m not going to think about that too much. :p Having visited Seattle, it was a huge bonus for me to sort of know the neighborhoods and stereotypes that are portrayed. It added some nuance and detail to the story that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

While I very much enjoyed the middle, I found the end to drop back down to how I felt in the beginning. There isn’t much of a satisfying resolution and everything feels ridiculous; unfortunately, Semple goes past humor and goes into drama for drama’s sake. Without getting into spoilers, there were a lot of actual problematic issues going on that were sort of glossed over and made to look like they were resolved. Regardless, I enjoyed this book overall (still rated it a 4!) and it was an entertaining, easy read for what it was. I think anyone looking for a bit of good fun will enjoy this — it’s very approachable and deals with situations that almost anyone can relate to. Great book club book, for the record.

ANDREW

This could be my bias towards love of architecture coming out, but I wish they had spent more time revisiting Part II, where it talks about Bernadette’s career as an architect. It was one of the more compelling parts of the book, and I wish it had been a bigger part of the story instead of glossed over and just used as background information. Additionally, it gets strangely meta at the end, and I don’t think that it was done as well as it could have been.

Overall, however, it’s really funny. I laughed quite a bit while listening to this. It’s well written, and I think that the e-mail/letter format is well done and interesting. For the most part, the format fits the story nicely. I listened to this as an audiobook, and I do recommend it if you’re a fan of audiobooks; the narrator does a really good job. I think you could read the book and still enjoy without knowing Seattle, but having a rough knowledge of the neighborhoods and atmosphere of the city definitely helped me better enjoy the story.