The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by
Release Date: September 12, 2007
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Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
How I Got the Book: ARC from Publisher
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is a 2007 novel for young adults written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forney. The book won several awards.This was the first young-adult fiction work by Alexie, a stand-up comedian,screenwriter, film producer, and songwriter who has previously written adult novels, short stories, poems, and screenplays. Alexie stated that “I did [write the book] because so many librarians, teachers, and teenagers kept asking me to write one.”
The Absolutely True Diary is a first-person narrative by Native American teenager Arnold Spirit Jr., also known as “Junior”, a 14-year-old budding cartoonist. The book is a bildungsroman, detailing Junior’s life on the Spokane Indian Reservation and his decision, upon encouragement from a reservation high school teacher, to go to an all-white public high school in the off-reservation town of Reardan, Washington. The novel has 65 comic illustrations by Forney, which sometimes act as punchlines while also revealing Junior’s character and furthering the plot.
The novel is controversial for some of its content on issues such as alcohol, poverty, bullying, violence, and sexual references, as well as for the tragic deaths of characters and for the use of profanity and slurs related to homosexuality and mental disability. As a result, some schools have banned the book from school libraries or inclusion in curricula.
Simple Language, Big Issues
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a one-of-a-kind look at life inside (and outside) a Native American reservation. The author, Sherman Alexie, is himself a Native American and has said this book was semi auto-biographical.
I’d say it’s more than “semi,” but knowing his history and background made a huge difference while reading it. This is a story of change and loss and becoming who you’re meant to me.
It’s told from the perspective of high school freshman Junior. The language of the story is very simplistic. It reads like a diary, which it is in a way. And, it’s a little over 250 pages, so a very quick read.
Even though the way it’s written is very easy-to-read, the storyline is full of really big, tough issues like alcoholism and death. I loved how Alexie approached these topics – with honesty and no quick solutions.
I appreciated that he was unafraid to tackle things in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian that one might guess he experienced firsthand. Like facing down a community who doesn’t want you to leave and takes your leaving as a betrayal.
As I read this book, I kept thinking that no one else could have told this story except Junior/Sherman Alexie. No one else could have talked about life in a reservation except someone who’s lived it, and it made me appreciate his journey and what it took to for him to make it.
There is definitely some content in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian that I would encourage parents to consider before letting their teen read it. That being said, I think this book’s rawness will really resonate with teens. I would just be advised before gifting this book unknowingly.
Bonus: Junior draws to express himself and the doodles are included in the book. I read the novel on my Kindle, so the text on some drawings was hard to read but overall it was fine. I loved the addition of the images because it adds another dimension to the mind of a teenaged boy.
I actually read Alexie’s Reservation Blues in a Native America Lit class in college. It’s a fantastic read, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for something similar to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
This is a book I would have loved to have read in high school. It’s eye-opening and raw. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will expose you to a culture not often highlighted in literature, and to a young boy’s experience that is totally and endearingly relatable.
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