Author: Sherman Alexie
Illustrator: Ellen Forney
Junior has spent his first fourteen years on the Spokane reservation, the son of parents who drink away their problems and don’t try, in a community of people who drink away their problems and don’t try. But even though he’s had some health problems and is a bit weird, Junior is smart, talented, and still able to dream of something better than living dirt poor on the rez and never making anything of himself. At the urging of one of his teachers, he makes a decision that will change the course of his life forever–and make him a target of resentment from everyone else on the rez. He decides to go to the school in the nearby farm town where the academics are better, because he wants to change his life. . . . Even if he’s the only non-white kid in the school. Even if all his neighbors think he betrayed them. Even if his best friend Rowdy ends up hating him.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was an incredible story: poignant, painful, funny, heartwarming, awkward, and moving. Sometimes all within a few pages. The character of Junior is remarkably authentic–too honest at some points, but that’s just who he is. Although most of us will never be in the situations he is (I certainly haven’t), at heart the struggles he faces are ones we can relate to: how we fit into our community, deal with family problems, manage financial limitations, stumble through adolescence, discover romance, gain and work through friendships, and try to find ways to excel and pursue our dreams. Those sorts of things are universal human problems, and Alexie provides a unique perspective on these in this story. I love that even though Junior is super-awkward, seemingly disadvantaged, and generally discouraged by those around him, he is stubborn enough to keep trying. Also, I think the cartoon illustrations (allegedly drawn by Junior, who is a budding cartoonist) add a lot to the story, particularly as they are usually inserted directly into to plot and are an actual part of the storytelling. For those who are brave enough to deal with the awkwardness (and I would only recommend this for an older audience, 16+ at least), The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a great, challenging, and definitely funny story.