flightSherman Alexie is probably most famous for writing the screenplay to Smoke Signals back in 1998. Since then, he’s been doing some other things, like competing in the World Heavyweight Poetry Bout and doing stand up comedy. But 2007 saw a novel burst. He published both Flight and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

What surprised me was this. I had heard that one of these two was billed as “a book for young adults, ” and when I picked up Flight I assumed this was it. I teach an Adolescent Literature course, so I was interested in possibility including it in the course.

The narrator is a fifteen-year-old in-and-out-of-the-system orphan who calls himself Zits. Native Catcher in the Rye immediately came to mind and I read the whole thing never doubting that this was the “young adult” novel. Never mind that it’s full of excruciatingly graphic violence and more F-bombs than the Sopranos, I’d still call it an adolescent novel, so I’m interested to know what True Diary is like.

It’s a fast read – I read it in one day’s time – but ultimately not a great novel. It’s got good moments, like the joy of Zits finally meeting someone who cares enough to help him with skin care products, but ultimately it’s a “message” novel. Each scene is designed to teach a lesson about the human experience, and at the end, both we and Zits are better people. I’m all for saving the world one reader at a time, but great novels are never like this. They make us think and wrestle with issues that matter, but they never preach.

Ultimately, Alexie is preaching here. That’s a No to including it in my course.

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1 Response to Flight

  1. Jocelyn says:

    I used to include an Alexie story in my Short Story class; I really liked it. I think that may be his best genre…the longer works don’t quite hold up. Sometimes I worry I like him better in theory than reality.

    But I won’t scrutinize it too closely, damn it.

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