Just finished reading Sherman Alexie’s Flight. I was asked to read it for assessment of school use. The first chapter had me adamant that it was completely inappropriate. By the end I was thinking, “Well…maybe.”
Alexie is just so gritty. His characters are coarse and vulgar. They grate against sweet, prudish, slightly virginal English teachers. However, they also reflect a reality that a lot of our students know only too well. I’m not into censorship, but I don’t have to teach a book I don’t like either. That’s a nice thing about professional autonomy. Not having prescribed curriculum or literature means we have a lot of freedom to teach process and encourage analysis using literature that is particularly relevant to our teens. For some kids, this will be a powerful reflection of their world.
Sherman Alexie is a Native American writer from Washington State. His books explore his world and observations of the interaction of his two communities. He has challenging ideas to both and this book reflects them.
It is the story of Zits, a kid whose native dad left, whose white mom died, and who has been shuffled through the foster system. He has to come to terms with his identity, his abandonment, and his anger. The method is essentially a series of parables. Zits travels through time to inhabit the bodies of whites and natives from Little Big Horn to his father. Watching the ‘native experience’ through other eyes leads him back to the beginning, and gives him a chance to make different decisions in order to attain a different outcome.
Alexie is accessible as a Native writer. His young characters are funny, ironic, and believable, but they’re gritty. Their lives are hard. Their experiences have been horrible. Alexie doesn’t sugar coat the misery, but he forces the protagonist (and therefore the reader) to decide whether he will allow the past to rule his future or whether he will carve a new path.
The hopeful message is what wins me over. He has used the graphic language and rebellious attitude of the first chapter or two to grab his audience. The time travel is confusing enough to keep them curious. The ending is satisfying. We all want to believe that everyone can have a happy ending.