“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes…By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
Arnold “Junior” Spirit barely walks through the entrance of his local high school, located in the Spokane Indian Reservation, before his geometry teachers convinces him to transfer to the wealthy Reardan High. At school, Junior struggles to fit in as an impoverished Indian in a predominantly white classroom. At home, members of his tribe, including his long-time buddy, Rowdy, call him a traitor for leaving the Spokane Reservation. In this hostile environment, Junior must discover, decide, and (at times) change his mind about who are “assholes” and who will bring love into his life.
From the opening line of the book, Junior’s voice is engaging, welcoming, and powerful. As a reader, I really felt like Junior was a close friend, directly talking to me. The book is peppered with silly cartoons that help pace the novel, and the resulting mix of words and drawings would be especially compelling for a reader that is easily bored by long paragraphs.
What I appreciate the most about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is that it doesn’t hesitate to address a myriad of “taboo” personal issues—alcoholism, abuse, racial discrimination, poverty, eating disorders, mental illness, and more. Books will often address only one (if any) of these topics, ignoring the fact that many of Juinor’s struggles go hand-in-hand. While the book highlights the systemic injustices that American Indians face, it never employs a self-pitying tone. Instead, Junior’s love of basketball, cartoons, and his classmate Penelope keeps the narrative humorous and meaningful.
For teens that relate to any aspect of Junior’s multi-faceted identity, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is supportive and inspiring. For teens that don’t relate, Junior’s experience provides an essential window into the semi-autobiographical life of an American Indian teenager.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown and Co., 2007. Print.