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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie's debut young adult novel which explores Indian identity

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I Absolutely, Truly Loved This Book

  • Jun 24, 2009
Rating:
+5
Pros: Different; humorous; emotional; appealing to many ages and types; true-to-life

Cons: May not be totally appealing or appropriate for younger tweens or children

The Bottom Line: A funny, emotional story... the bottom lines absolutely, truly, loved this diary of a part-time Indian

My mother, a high school librarian and book-lover, is always recommending books to me.  She pushed me to find Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie in my library for several months while I "uh-huh, okay"ed her, until one evening after a visit with her I noticed it stuffed into my purse.  When mother sends me home with a book I always read it... it may take me months to get around to it, but I always do what mommy says.  As sometimes happens, this book took awhile before it called to me, but when I saw it laying in my bedroom one evening I picked it up to check out chapter one... and 30 minutes later my husband was calling across the house to see what was taking me so long.  Whoops.  Mom was right... it was a must-read.

Arnold Spirit (Junior) is a teenage Indian on a reservation in Wellpinit, Washington.  The book begins with Junior laying out some unavoidable facts for us... he was born with a brain full of water, he sometimes has seizures, and his glasses, small, skinny body, lisp, and huge feet make him sort of awkward.  He's a geek so to speak; one who likes comics and basketball.  His family, like many Indian families on the reservation, is poor, and it doesn't help that his father is a frequent bar-goer.  His older sister mostly stays holed up in the basement.  Junior's friend Rowdy (whose name matches his demeanor) is his defender of sorts, always willing to knock out anyone who messes with Junior.  The first few chapters are of Junior telling us awkward, funny, and sometimes seemingly-unimportant and out of place tidbits (for example, he really loves chicken) but soon Junior tells us about throwing a textbook in his teacher's face.  It is through this incident that Junior decides to try to get out of the reservation.  He decides to enroll in Reardon, a nearby school.  The problem?  Reardon is a rival school full of white kids.

Brave, awkward Arnold Spirit begins his career at Reardon with sort of a rough start.  An Indian and an outsider, it takes some time but he learns to make a name for himself and establish some true friendships and relationships.  It is also during this time that Junior explores the relationships he has with his family members, including his alcoholic father, his all-knowing grandmother, and his sister, who's begun a new life for herself as well.  But it doesn't take long before Junior's success in school results in diminishing friendships and status at the reservation, and one thing he makes clear throughout the book is that you don't want to get on the bad side of an Indian. 

Coming of age, experiencing several firsts, learning how to balance relationships and the true meaning of family and love are all in store for Arnold (Junior) Spirit in the pages of Sherman Alexie's first young adult novel.

I'll admit that the book really didn't seem like something that would appeal to me when my mother told me about it.  I'm not a huge fan of humorous young adult fiction, and the title just did nothing to grab me.  However, a mere two or three pages into the book I was hooked.  Alexiehas a way of writing as Junior that makes you feel like you're part of the story, or a part of Junior himself.  Junior speaks so matter-of-factly I couldn't help but draw my eyes from page to page and continue reading, and in fact I finished this book within 2 days.  Junior keeps a humorous, up-beat attitude through his story, which is filled with bits and pieces of all types.  Junior experiences his first romantic relationship that begins unexpectedly and with puke (yes you read that right).  Alcohol is a major part of his life, and while he doesn't drink himself it clearly affects him, as his mother is an ex-alcoholic, and his father is a binge drinker.  Gaining and losing friendships are a big piece of Arnold's story and a tough theme; his status as an Indian is questioned by the entire reservation community after his decision to switch schools, and this doesn't make it easy on an already-awkward teenage boy.  Death is yet another major player in Junior's life that is dealt with emotionally and humorously through the story.

Alexie writes honestly and unquestionably just as an awkward teenage boy going through a strange year of life-changes would.  His matter-of-fact style is appreciable and easy to follow, and makes for an emotional and honest story.  Scattered throughout the book are cartoonish drawings by illustrator Ellen Forney.  One of Junior's passions is drawing, and these drawings are of events or people he's talking about in the book.  Some of them are accompanied by descriptions, thought bubbles, or labels that add another hilarious dimension, and help pull the images and the story together.  The drawings are always comical, and are fairly primitive but are exactly those you would expect a boy like Junior to create.  These drawings obviously help relieve some of Junior's troubles and pains, and also help get some of his thoughts and descriptions across in just the right way.  Though the story and the illustrations are done by two people, there is no question that in the book they come from the same character.

Alexie deals with the abundance of serious issues and teenage drama with humor, as is his style as a comedian.  Sex is referenced frequently but is never over-the-top and is often quite funny.  Death and alcohol are other serious topics that are covered, and while the author doesn't play them off as unimportant he does manage to cover them in a way that is emotionally impacting but not overbearing for teenagers.  At no point during this book did I think that things were 'too much' for a young adult to read, but I wouldn't recommed the book to children under 13. 

Winner of a 2007 National Book Award and a 2008 Washington State Book Award, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fairly accurate recounting of author and comedian Sherman Alexie's own life.  Many of the details come from the author's own life and experiences as a young Indian on the Spokane reservation.  It is this true-life experience and retelling that makes this books such a powerfully emotional and laugh-out-loud hit.  While it wasn't something I anticipated liking it didn't take much to draw me in, and once I was hooked I was hooked for good.  This is a book that will appeal to everyone, but may be especially appealing for young adult males who aren't necessarily enthralled with reading. 

I could find no fault with this easy and quick, emotional and humorous read and will be looking to read more Sherman Alexie.

Recommended:
Yes

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More The Absolutely True Diary of a... reviews
review by . July 20, 2010
I love this book!  I think it is smart and funny, while also allowing for the exploration of weighty and tough racial identity issues.  Graphics interspersed throughout the novel are loved by young readers and add loads of humor.  Teens love it and adults enjoy it too!  For those interested, here's a quick summary.      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian relates the struggle of a ninth grade boy to navigate two cultures and identities.  …
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2010
a fantastic novel
Quick Tip by . June 19, 2010
good
review by . June 18, 2010
This is actually not Alexie's first novel, but his first novel for young adults. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of a Spokane Indian boy named Arnold, and his decision to attend a high school off the Reservation. Alternating between tragedy and comedy, it details his experiences with tribal and family life and with school.                 Arnold’s narrative details the despair and beauty of living …
review by . December 28, 2008
I wish it was possible to give a book six stars on Amazon. Or ten stars. Or a hundred stars. Not for just any book, mind you; only for those that pack such emotional wallop, humor, and writing into them that the usual scale just doesn't do them justice. The sort of book like the young adult novel The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie that just makes you immediately realize this book deserves way more than just five stars.    Arnold (also known as Junior), …
review by . December 04, 2008
Junior is just another unlucky kid living on an Indian reservation, but unfortunately, he's even unluckier than most. He was born with brain damage and a strangely disproportioned body, which causes him to be alternately beat up and ridiculed by all the other kids on the reservation except his only friend Rowdy. Junior might be smart and a good artist, but growing up in poverty and surrounded by alcoholics and broken dreams makes him believe that he's destine to the same life he's always had. But …
About the reviewer
Laura Elizabeth 'Anderson' Brack ()
Ranked #321
I'm brand new to Lunch and looking to get settled. I write on epinions.com as laurashrti, and enjoy writing product reviews.      I'm a 27-year-old library employee working … more
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Starred Review.Grade 7–10—Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie's first young adult novel is a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old was born with water on the brain, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw. He says, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one's community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist's grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The many characters, on and off the rez, with whom he has dealings are portrayed with compassion and verve, particularly the adults in his extended family. Forney's simple pencil cartoons fit perfectly within the story and reflect the burgeoning artist within Junior. Reluctant readers can even skim the pictures and construct their own story based exclusively on Forney's illustrations. The teen's determination to both improve himself and ...
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Tags

Books, Cafe Libri, Young Adult Books, Teen Books, Native Americans, Diary Novels, Sherman Alexie, Native American Fiction

Details

ISBN-10: 0316013684
ISBN-13: 978-0316013680
Author: Sherman Alexie
Genre: Children's Chapter Books
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Date Published: September 12, 2007
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