Book Reviews | Aug 5th, 2007

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Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Grove Press
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 208
Retail Price: 9.99
Buy on Amazon.com link

Zits is a 15-year-old half-Indian boy whose life is as ugly and scarred as his pimpled face. Orphaned young and hopping from one abusive foster home to another, he loses hope and trust in everyone. After falling under the spell of a golden juvenile delinquent named Justice, he launches a murder spree.

At that moment, he time travels. He quantum leaps from one body to the next, experiencing moments of modern Indian history through different points of view. These experiences provide some tools to help Zits redeem himself and resolve the burning questions in his life – Why did his father abandon him and his mother? Why do we fight and act cruel towards each other? And what does it mean to be Indian?

The book is high concept, but written at a shallow level that is oddly unpoetic for Alexie. Like most adults who try to write in a young person’s voice, Alexie oversimplifies and misses the mark. Sentences are clipped and jagged, as if angry, misguided teens can’t think or speak intelligently beyond “Whatever.” The style makes you dislike both the writing and the protagonist, making empathy toward both Zits and the novel difficult.

While I like the Slaughterhouse 5-ish time travel device, the simple, breezy writing and “understanding yourself through other eyes” storyline reminded me of pop-selfhelp claptrap like The Five People You Meet In Heaven. Alexie, who can write circles around any Oprah pick, disappoints with this Middle America pandering.

But as a larger metaphor, the book does work. “What does it mean to be Indian?” is a question Sherman Alexie wrestles with in much of his work, and he embodies it in Zits. I’m hesitant to compare the Native American experience to the pitfalls of adolescence, but Zits’ identity confusion and life of betrayal, anger, and hopelessness seem to represent something bigger than one teenager’s angst. Is Zits mourning a childhood or is Alexie mourning a culture?

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