Book Review | The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

the-absolutely-true-diary-of-a-part-time-indian-review-paiges-pagesTITLE: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
AUTHOR: Sherman Alexie
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
RELEASE DATE: September 12, 2007
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction, Own Voices

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the heartwarming and unforgettable story of Arnold Spirit a.k.a. Junior.  Everyone on the Spokane Indian reservation assumes he’ll never make it to college, and will continue his family’s pattern of poverty.  But Junior is determined not to live the life laid out for him.  

People on the rez call 14-year-old Junior a loser for many reasons: besides wearing glasses and being born with “water on the brain”, he refuses to follow in his parents’ footsteps.  So Junior does the unthinkable and moves to a middle-class, all-white public school beyond the rez.  When he’s accused of betraying the tribe, Junior must prove himself to his new and old friends.  

I remember when people used to think I was smart.  I remember when people used to think my brain was useful.  Damaged by water, sure.  And ready to seizure at any moment.  But still useful, and maybe even a little bit beautiful and sacred and magical – page 86

As an Own Voices narrative, Junior’s story is founded on Sherman Alexie’s personal experiences of life on an Indian reservation.  I fell in love with Junior instantly.  With his relatable self-deprecating sense of humour, he immersed me in his way of seeing the world.  Sometimes laugh out loud funny, sometimes unexpectedly profound and poetic, his self-awareness is captivating.  I can’t imagine this book existing without such a strong and endearing hero at its heart.

It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor.  You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly.  And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian.  And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor … Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance.  No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor – page 13

Junior’s coming-of-age story will resonate with many people.  I especially love his internal quest to forge an identity that incorporates all the different facets of his life – on our own lifelong journey, we are part of many different identities and communities, some transitional, some deeply embedded in who we are.  As a young person navigating new and changing identities, Junior’s story will touch many YA readers.  However, he is such a well-developed and empathetic character that adult readers will find him equally loveable.

I realised that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian.  I belonged to that tribe.  But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants.  And to the tribe of basketball players.  And to the tribe of bookworms – page 217

Even though Junior is a comedian, his sense of humour never downplays or sugarcoats the sad events in his life.  He talks about grief and loss, lack of privilege, and alcoholism with raw emotion.  His relationships with other characters are also realistic and develop naturally over the course of the plot.

If you’re good at it, and you love it, and it helps you navigate the river of the world, then it can’t be wrong – page 95

While illuminating aspects of his culture, Junior’s story will resonate with people from countless walks of life – grief, friendship, and bullying are universal experiences.  This is a story for when you feel like a loser, or when life is weighing you down.  It may even help you find your tribe where you least expect…


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