Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (GoodReads)
Author: Sherman Alexie
Page Count: 230
Genre: YA Contemporary
In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.
This is one of those books I’ve been hearing about for a long time but only just got around to reading now. I can see why so many people loved this book. It tells the story of an Indian kid named Junior who decides to leave the reservation where he lives and attend the all-white school nearby. For those who don’t know, this novel is based largely on Alexie’s own life. Before anyone starts complaining about how unrealistic some of the events are (as I’ve seen several reviewers say), I’d recommend learning a bit more about Alexie. Yes, a lot of horrible stuff happens in this book, but that’s life.
What I liked about this novel was that Junior’s struggles were both unique and universal. Most of us probably have no idea what it’s like to grow up on a reservation. We don’t know what it’s like to be Native American/Indian. So in that respect, Junior’s story is unique. We can’t know exactly what it’s like to be him.
But we can understand his feelings. We may not have to deal with an entire reservation hating us, but we know what it’s like to feel like an outsider. We might know what it’s like to go against your family or your community. We may know what it feels like to lose someone we love. Like Junior points out, there are lots of different tribes, and we all belong to a bunch of different ones. We can learn a lot from this story.
But this novel’s not just a good lesson. It’s funny. Junior talks about sex a lot, but he’s a teenager. That’s to be expected. I didn’t really like some of the racist/sexist/homophobic language that was used, but it felt authentic to the characters. Really, the language was my only real problem with this book. I can deal with the sex talk. That was usually really funny, actually. The name-calling I didn’t like.
Still, I really enjoyed this book. It was a fast read, and it taught me more about Native American culture than I ever learned in school. If you haven’t picked up this book, I recommend you give it a shot. Aside from the language, it’s a good story.