What’s It About: Zits, a troubled teenage Indian boy (well, “Native American” to the ‘politically correct’ but, from what I understand, not for actual Indians) gets shot in the head while robbing a bank with his mysterious pal, Justice. This shot to the head sends Zits back through time into the bodies of various influential figures in Native American history.
Why: Sherman Alexie is a great poet and his YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian incorporates complex cultural and sociological theory in a clear, satirical manner that appeals to teens and young adults alike.
Thoughts: After a promising start, with an expositional function of showing the vicious institutional cycle that turns young minorities into criminals, addicts, and/or mirrors of their failed ancestors, this book unfortunately fails to do the same sort of cultural work that Diary did. Alexie has never been one for subtlety (at least in what I’ve read) but the opening bank robbery and mass shooting overshadowed the rest of the book for me. In and of itself, this is fine, working in a way that other writers, like Toni Morrison, let’s say, use vivid violence as a physical culmination of social and interior conflict. But, (and I should credit my sister with this observation) the scene’s violence, as well as the violence of the time-shift scenes, doesn’t get addressed as appropriately or critically as I would have hoped. Instead, we get a forced, superficial happy ending (the time-shifting never quite explained… Indian mysticism? divine forces of identity and cultural learning?) with a moral that we could have figured out anyways- Don’t rob a bank and shoot people.