After reading and loving Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I picked up YA novel Flight by the same author to find out whether I wanted to be reading more of Alexie’s writing. Here’s a brief comparison.
P.S. – although this book features a teenaged main character and may be classified as YA, it features some difficult and mature themes. Read with caution if you’re a younger teen.
About the book: “Zits” is a half-Indian half-Irish teen who’s been shuffled from foster home to disastrous foster home, causing mayhem and fighting over everything just because he can. His experience with abuse as a child has closed him off from healthy relationships and any sense that his life might turn out right. A brush with death, however, sends Zits spinning into the lives of other potential killers and influential figures, and he begins to see a bigger picture behind the violence in his life. When Zits is convinced to walk into a bank with a pair of guns, nothing will ever be the same for him–although what happens from there is nothing like what the reader might expect.
“How can you tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys when they say the same things?”
The writing style of Flight is very similar to that of The Absolutely True Diary. No fun graphics in this novel, but the same sort of ironic humor and strong teenage character drives the messages of this book home. That said, I did think the tone of this book was much darker. Absolutely True Diary‘s Junior has the tough life of a constantly-ostracized victim, but Zits has been repeatedly abused and let down by the people he should have been able to trust most, on top of the crappy hand life deals him. Junior, at least, remains optimistic about turning the bad aspects of his life around. Zits approaches every situation with his fists raised and protects himself from potential harm by being the first to attack. Although it is easy to see what makes Zits so cynical, it’s harder to root for him sometimes when he’s so attached to his own negativity.
“You can’t trust people with your love. People will use your love. They’ll take advantage of you. They’ll lie to you. They’ll cheat you.”
Zits learns his lessons in a unique and compelling way, however. Personally, I think books that play with time and reality are some of the most interesting stories that exist, and I particularly enjoyed journeying through various historical lives with Zits as he’s forced to confront the collision course he’s on. Alexie made a great writing choice by sweeping the reader along with Zits on this adventure; the beginning of the journey is just as confusing for the reader as for Zits, which is the aspect that finally draws the reader solidly onto Zits’ side and sparks concern for his physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The detail and description with which each episode of this ride are described keep the reader grounded, although the reason for the journey and the factors that make it possibly remain unknown until the end. I wish the technicalities of Zits’ in-other-bodies experience had been a little more deeply explored, but the unusual method of story-telling certainly keeps the reader engaged in the narrative.
“As we fall, I think about my mother and father. I think about the people I loved. I think about the people I hated. I think about the people I betrayed. I think about the people who have betrayed me. We’re all the same people. And we are all falling.”
My favorite part of the book, however, is the relatable messages in the end. Although Zits’ situation is very different from my own and from any real situations that I’m closely familiar with, I found his revelations of trust and non-violence widely applicable. Bad things happen in life–horrible things–and although readers may not have experienced the same bad things as Zits, they can learn the importance of kindness and forgiveness, and the hopefulness of moving on.
“I am surrounded by people who trust me to be a respectful stranger. Am I trustworthy? Are any of us trustworthy? I hope so.”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. While I didn’t react quite as strongly to this book as to The Absolutely True Diary, I did thoroughly enjoy reading Flight. I love being a little uncertain about what’s going on in a book and what’s real, and I think this book used those tactics well to convey worthwhile messages about equality, a sense of belonging, and the horrors of killing, among others. I liked the book enough to want to read more of Alexie’s work in the future, although I think I’ll take a break from him before I decide what’s next. His novels seem to resonate with me more than his short stories did a few years ago, so I’m really glad I gave this author another chance in a new format.
- Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a powerful adult fiction novel about a soldier’s reaction to the Vietnam War. It addresses some of the same sorts of messages as Flight, like the endless cycle and pointlessness of killing, as well as the burdens of guilt and grief the soldier brings back home. With the same sense of uncertainty about what’s real and what’s imagined, The Things They Carried is a great next choice for fans of Flight‘s format as well as its underlying themes.
- If you like Michael’s/Zits’s journey through various lives and perspectives in history, you may want to try a book like Ann Brashares’s My Name is Memory, a YA adventure/romance featuring a man who is aware of every one of his reincarnations and must use that advantage to find and save the girl he loves by thwarting his evil competition.
- Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec is a moving collection of narrative poetry that conveys a young woman’s perspective of her brother’s drug addiction as life on and off the reservation veers away from the tradition and culture of their ancestors. If the modern fate of Native Americans is something that you’re interested in reading about, this set of poems is another eye-opening choice.
Coming up next: I’m currently reading Erika Carter’s Lucky You, which is my first Book of the Month Club pick and is unavailable to the public outside of BOTM until early March, I believe. This is an NA story about a small group of girls (plus one boyfriend) who try to outrun their problems by going “off the grid” in Arkansas and essentially leaving the world behind, but soon realize that their troubles can’t be escaped so easily.
What are you reading next?
The Literary Elephant