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Archive for the ‘misfits’ Tag

Many Types of Tribes   2 comments

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When I worked as a writing tutor at the local community college, I saw enough rhetorical and critical analyses on Sherman Alexis’s “Superman and Me” to fill a classroom – floor to ceiling. I knew his essay inside and out. Until now I was unfamiliar with his other writings. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fictional account (complete with cartoon illustrations by Ellen Forney) of Arnold Spirit Jr., aka Junior, aka Arnold.

Certainly, similarities exist to Alexis’s life growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation in eastern Washington, but the diary entries are fiction. They follow Junior/Arnold in his freshman year of high school. Plenty of back story is provided, beginning with Arnold/Junior’s birth defects that physically, socially and intellectually isolate him from most others on the reservation. He’s suspended on the first day of school and decides to transfer to the “white” school 22 miles away. On the reservation he’s known as Junior; at the new school he’s Arnold.

He changes schools in hopes of opening new doors while learning to accept that old ones are slammed in the process. His life is a dichotomy. He’s always struggled to fit in and expects to endure the same at the new school. It’s clear from the onset that Junior/Arnold is an underdog, so the outcome is predictable. The transformation of other characters is what’s most heartening; it shows that tribes can be of our own creation. This is evident through the diary reflecting its author’s humor, perception and emotion.

Four Bookmarks
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Little, Brown & Co., 2007
230 pages

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Opposites Do Attract   Leave a comment

Rainbow Rowell’s story of young love overshadowed by harsh realities is humorous, haunting, and hopeful. Alliteration aside, Rowell’s Eleanor & Park is a study in contrasts and seems to prove that opposites do attract.

The omniscient narrator alternates between the couple. Although this approach doesn’t establish distinct voices, the characters are well-defined. Bits and pieces of Eleanor’s unhappy home life are slowly revealed while suggesting impending misfortune. Park, on the other hand, has two loving parents and lives next door to his grandparents. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s overweight, has bright red, unruly hair and dresses in a way that only the addition of neon could attract more attention. Park isn’t Mr. Popularity, but he does straddle the line between acceptance and rebuff. He’s part Asian, dresses all in black, but has known the kids in his high school all his life. When Eleanor sits next to him on the bus, he’s embarrassed, but friendship, then romance slowly, oh so slowly, begins to emerge.

Among Rowell’s themes are bullying and abuse; these create tension in the novel. The sense of something going awry is palpable. Yet, so are the more positive aspects of emerging love and parental concern. References to Shakespearean tragedy add a sense of foreboding; nonetheless, this is a tale dependent on hope. The title characters are different, likeable, and prove that appearances aren’t everything. It’s unfortunate they live in world where extreme differences aren’t always appreciated and where it’s easy to hide dangerous secrets.

Eleanor & Park
Four Bookmarks
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013
325 pages