TITLE: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
AUTHOR: Sherman Alexie
ILLUSTRATOR: Ellen Forney
REVIEW IN ONE WORD: ASTONISHING
QUICK RECAP: Native American Arnold “Junior” Spirit is 14 years old when he decides to get off the rez. At his age, this means attending the all-white school in town. The people on his reservation consider him a traitor. The people in town aren’t thrilled to have him. With a foot in both worlds, Junior struggles to create an identity for himself that is true to who he is – especially difficult since he’s not quite sure of this himself.
MY REVIEW: It’s rare that I rave about an award-winning contemporary novel for kids. Sometimes I wonder if the panels who give the awards have actually spent time with actual kids – but I digress. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie deserves every one of the awards and accolades it has received. The book is moving, engrossing, and engaging. The kids I’ve read this book with range from grades 6-11. Each has found something that resonates with him/her. This is not a stereotypical fish-out-of-water or trite triumph-over-adversity story. This is a moving look at one boy’s struggle. The writing is amazing, as are the cartoons throughout.
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW: 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 overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie’s tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.—Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library
LINKS: There are discussion questions at the back of the book, Buy the Book