Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Posted December 22, 2013on:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Little Brown & Co., 2007, 230 pp.
I kept hearing reports and conversations about this book. Many loved it, a few didn’t, each had elements they shared for critique or praise. Everyone said it was an important contribution to young adult literature, because Sherman Alexie brings a new perspective, often lauded as the first modern Native American voice in young adult fiction. So I decided to see for myself. After Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, I’m developing a much greater openness to young adult fiction.
Alexie’s book is the story of Arnold Spirit, who usually goes by “Junior,” growing up on a reservation in Washington. Junior was born with water on the brain, but grows up smart and top of his class. On top of the normal challenges of middle school, he deals with bullying, poverty, alcoholic family members, drunk driving, and violence. He copes by drawing cartoons, which appear throughout the book. His intellect give him the opportunity to transfer out of the reservation school and into the rich, white high school. In spite of unreliable transportation and harassment from both sets of schoolmates, Junior perseveres at the white high school, even making the basketball team.
Alexie gives Junior a strong voice, that sounds just like you’d expect a high school boy to sound. I did think from time to time that the story became too much, and wondered how so many bad things could happen to the same kid. But Alexie claims to have based the novel on his own experiences, so I trust it comes from an authentic place. The novel does open up a view into the situation of poverty and addiction that is all too common on the reservation, but I didn’t find it especially insightful. Perhaps that’s because I am already familiar with many of those issues, or because I am not the target audience of young adults.
I am grateful that the world of young adult literature is expanding to include new and different voices. Junior’s story was honest, encouraging and inspiring. I would definitely recommend it to middle and high schoolers in my life.