Monday, November 29, 2010

American Born Chinese (Gene Leun Yang) and The Absolutely True Confessions of a Part Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)

Both of these books really looked at the life of children growing up in multicultural traditions. It is interesting how both books choose a nontraditional format to tell their stories; ABC is a brilliant graphic novel that uses layered plot devices to tell an deeply poignant story and Confessions is the diary of a young Indian boy, complete with doodles and sketches and a stream of conscious feel that captures a unique voice. I found these formats to be incredibly effective tools, because they put readers outside of their immediate comfort zones. In a way, this leveled the playing field and forced readers to approach the book differently than a normal chapter novel.

Also, both books made very clear statements about society, specifically about the position of a minority young adult within the mainstream culture. Neither glamorized the life of individuals or even of the mainstream culture, rather they discussed the difficulties of fitting familial traditions into society's view of a "normal" or "good" life.

While I loved both books, I think that ABC portrays the struggle more effectively. Confessions is engaging and thought-provoking, and I find Alexie's multiple examples of the poverty and alcoholism that sweep reservations extremely compelling. Still, I feel like something is missing; it seems as though, while Junior is fully aware of what happens around him, he is unable to articulate it clearly. Alexie loads his prose with examples and heart-wrenching tragedy, but I left the story unsatisfied on some level. Maybe this is actually the most successful part of the book -- the fact that I walk away feeling someone hopeless and perplexed as to what I'm supposed to do with the information. Confessions is certainly rimmed in hope, but the story itself is bleak.

I think that I favor ABC because it focuses less on the struggle of an entire people group, and more on an individual coming to term with his identity. It is much more manageable and immediate -- while Confessions asks huge questions of society, ABC questions particular roles within society, and I connected more with that. I walked away blown away by the depth of the piece, whereas with Confessions, I was distracted by the major questions at hand and the plight of Native Americans as a whole.

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