Where is hope? Who can have hope?
Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, investigates this question through the journey of 14-year-old Arnold, or Junior, Spirit. Junior, who is a poor, hydrocephalic, Indian living on a reservation, seeks a better life for himself despite the culture of failure he is born into. In pursuit of this dream, he makes a choice to leave his reservation and attend an affluent, all-white school 22 miles away. As a result, he is branded a traitor, and gets caught between two worlds: his home on the reservation and the white high school that he attends. Feeling as though he doesn’t fit in anywhere, Junior is forced to forge a new kind of identity for himself, ultimately learning that he must not see himself as only an Indian, but as a person from many different tribes. His persistent quest to find hope drives this self-exploration and despite his handicaps of birth, race, and class, his journey delivers a positive message about one’s ability to ascend his circumstances.
Most powerful about this book, however, is the author’s refusal to sugarcoat Junior’s life. Using what Alexie termed as “reservation realism,” he is able to convey the beauty and sacred traditions of the rez as well as the destruction that its poverty, alcoholism, abuse, and senseless death cause. This honesty interspersed with humor is what elevates Alexie’s book above others and makes The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian a valuable part of Young Adult Literature.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Tumwater, WA: Washington State Library, 2008. Print.