The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

Other authorsEllen Forney (Illustrator)
Paperback, 2009


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LibraryThing member labfs39
Sherman Alexie lives here in the Northwest, so I have felt remiss in not having read any of his books. I'm so glad I rectified that omission. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an absolute delight. Although it is technically a young adult book, it won the National Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book for 2007. And with good reason. Based in large part on Alexie's own experiences, this coming-of-age story is incredibly touching and uplifting, as well as edifying for those of us not familiar with modern life on an Indian reservation.

Junior was born with encephalitis and other medical problems which make him a target for the other kids on the reservation who regularly bully him. Fortunately, he has a best friend, Rowdy, who looks out for him, and parents who, although alcoholics like most of the adult population of the reservation, are loving and supportive. Creative and smart, Junior pursues his dream of a better life by transferring from the reservation school to Reardon, the larger high school in an all-white farming community 22 miles away. Instantly he becomes an outcast on the reservation for "going white", while simultaneously struggling to gain acceptance from his white school peers. As Junior overcomes school difficulties and home tragedies, he slowly begins to realize that his identity is much larger than either Indian or white.

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.
And the tribe of cartoonists.
And the tribe of chronic masturbators.
And the tribe of teenage boys.
And the tribe of small-town kids.
And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners.
And the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers.
And the tribe of poverty.
And the tribe of funeral-goers.
And the tribe of beloved sons.
And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends.
It was a huge realization.
And that's when I knew I was going to be okay.
But it also reminded me of the people who were not going to be okay.

I liked this book for its unflinching look at a difficult life and for its spunky hero who refuses to lose hope despite terrible obstructions. The illustrations are brilliant. Ellen Forney collaborated with Alexie to create cartoons of the sort that Junior would have drawn, and they add both context and emotional impact. Since the author grew up on the Spokane Reservation and attended Reardon High, there is an authenticity to the story that is truly effecting. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member cammykitty
The Absolute Diary of a Part-Time Indian is going to appeal more to boys. It's a 5 star read for sure, and ties with Al Capone Does my Shirts as the best in my YA I've read this year. It's candid, crude, funny and poignant account of a Spokane Indian who decides he needs to go to a school off the reservation. Of course it's semi-autobiographical, but I couldn't tell you what parts are true and what aren't. I've got a good guess, since many of the elements in Part-Time Indian are also in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and Reservation Blues. I'm curious of course, but I don't really care. Alexie obviously blended autobiography with art to create a message that was to be both entertaining and informative.

Alexie, is by his own words "a pissed off Indian." His writing is sharp, cutting and out-spoken. He's gotten the worst of both worlds - criticized for being too white, stomped on for being too native, criticized for discussing the booze and violence. However, there is a disconnect between his writing and his personal mannerisms in my own mind. I watched him once on a TV interview being talked over by another minority representative. I remember being irritated because I wanted to hear what he was trying to say, but he never got a chance to say it. The moderator never jumped in and said please, let Mr. Alexie make his point. I'll get to the point he was trying to address later in my comments. What I learned was true when I watched this interview, was that Sherman Alexie was voiceless. His writing was his voice. He represented many, many people in this world who don't have a voice. His writing is fueled by the anger of being voiceless.

His characters are voiceless, at least off the rez, too. When Junior, made Arnold because Junior is a silly name off the rez, begins speaking in class he is belittled. He's in trouble for challenging the teacher. He's also right. We hear Junior's thoughts, his reasons for his strange reactions, what he thinks versus what he says because what he thinks isn't anybody's business. I'm not American Indian, so I don't know, but I've heard this is a cultural thing for them. I also know much that I know and think about modern American Indians has been shaped by Sherman Alexie's writing. Holding back is also a human thing. Children and teens are often asked by adults to spill their guts, and they feel like it's an order. It came from an adult, so they have to. They don't want to, but they have to. Sigh.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is important because it speaks for people who are voiceless. For American Indian teens, it describes something familiar. It gives comfort by validating their experiences. For non-American Indians, it opens their eyes to the other. It points out that some things are naively racist. It shows the way to open your heart.

But the educators should be looking at this book too. A boy came to our school. He looked like an Olmec statue sitting in the classroom. He was big and silent. His body language was often unreadable. He was Lakota/Nakota/Dakota or Ojibway, I never learned which. He was initially thrown into Special Ed - EBD - because he didn't do anything. He must've come with some sort of report that said his grades in his old school were miserable and they thought something might be wrong with him. In class, he listened. Sometimes he did his work. Sometimes he didn't. He never turned it in. We tested him. He was super-intelligent. He never got into fights - he clearly wasn't EBD. What was going on? I think Sherman Alexie could've told us. He probably would've told us to throw him into our Gifted-and-Talented program, talk to him, encourage him, let him know we knew he was super smart.

So what was the interview about? It was about minorities going to college. The woman who kept talking over Sherman Alexie was Asian and she was angry because some Asian kids had been told we aren't taking you at this college because we have lots of Asian kids. We want a diverse student population. Sure, if I were Asian that would get me mad, but perhaps what the schools were really trying to say is affirmative action and outreach isn't needed to get Asians to college anymore. Other minorities have it harder than you. Sherman Alexie didn't get to say much, but he asked her, have you seen the Indian kids in those schools? You haven't. Because there aren't any. He didn't even get to say what he said clearly in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. They might want to go to college, but their parents haven't. No one in their family has gone. They don't think it is even possible. So, I ask the educators this - it isn't a new question - educators talk about it a lot, at least in the school I work at - how do you get a kid who is plenty smart but believes college is as impossible as walking on Saturn to have confidence in themselves and live up to their potential?
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
I have been dragging my feet on reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie for some time. I thought the book was being over-hyped, so many rave reviews - how could it be that good? Well, after reading this book I understand. Yes, it is that good.

With rich, dark humor Sherman Alexie paints life on the Rez. Perfectly capturing the voice of Arnold Spirit Jr. we learn of the trials and tribulations of growing up Indian. Enhanced by the wonderful cartoon drawings of Ellen Forney, this truly is a book that brings both smiles and tears as we read of the life of a contemporary Indian boy trying to improve himself and break away from the sad legacy that so many Native North Americans fall plight to.

Every character on these pages rings true. I particularly thought his best friend Rowdy was an exceptional character and his struggle to accept Junior’s decision to break free of the reservation was both poignant and realistic.

Wonderfully written, the author uses humor and honesty to tell his quirky story of how one boy forces himself to leave the safe cocoon of the reservation and take that first step into a wider world in hopes of a better future. I highly recommend The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
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LibraryThing member beserene
The other night, some friends and I were at our local independent bookstore, Schuler Books, picking up giver boxes for World Book Night 2012. The store had extras, and we volunteered to take some to give away in addition to the books we had originally selected. One of those extra boxes contained Sherman Alexie's 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian', which I knew of but had never read. Today I read it. And now I wish I'd had this book when I was younger, because it is one of those books that changes your perception of the world.

Blurbs about this book tell you that you'll laugh and cry. I actually did. What's more, I sat back -- more than once -- and simply said "Wow". What can I tell you to make that sound like more than empty praise? I could tell you that this is a first-person narrative about an American Indian teenager making a personal transition from living without hope on the Spokane reservation to experiencing the larger world in new ways, but that summation hardly does it justice. While reading this, I felt as though I inhabited the mind of Junior/Arnold -- or perhaps his narrative inhabited me. The narration is so personal and so pitch perfectly in tune with youth, grief, confusion, transformation... Though simple and direct (as it should be, considering the character's voice), the story's language impresses with its rich emotional resonance. I have to fall back on those words, the standard language of the reviewer, because there simply isn't sufficient expression for the emotional purity that the book conveys. I did cry. I did laugh. Out loud. There it is.

The moments that made me step back and say "wow" were often simple moments. There is a beautiful scene--in which our main character and his school mate are looking at the array of books in their small school library--which culminates with the idea that "the world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know." For our main character, that is a big and brilliant new thought that provokes a "wow" from him; for me, it is a big and brilliant thought that directly articulates one of the motivating feelings of my life, more perfectly than I ever could, and it elicited the same reaction.

Not every moment of this book evokes philosophical reflection. Much of it is filled with the authentic idiocy of the teenage boy. Even more of it is filled with hard images of poverty, pain, and death. It moves so quickly that one hardly has time to process one emotional tumult before the next begins. But that is real, too. In the end, we the readers have lived one academic year in the main character's life, but it feels like much more than that. I suspect that this one will stay with me for a long time. And I am extraordinarily glad that I will shortly have the privilege of giving it away to others -- because this is a book that people need to read.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
I read because LT member Berly made me, and of course I always do as I am told.


I've never been an Alexie fan. I don't like his precious, picky prose telling such whopping fat lies. I do like this book. I like it a lot. It's as good as I have read, storytelling-wise, and it's not precious or picky in its writing (most of the time). Some parts, like Ted the white billionaire at a funeral, are reversions to the tropes I've disliked most, but on the whole I can't recommend this compact, graceful book highly enough.

It's an irony that Alexie's outsider is so universal as to speak loudly to me, child of privilege by skin color, social class, economic status, and to dig sharply into my painful places in service of pointing out our common human experiences, instead of making me feel like a voyeur or tourist (really, aree those different things?) as I suspect he intended to do.

But perhaps I am a little bit cynical when it comes to Alexie's writing. I read this book, due tomorrow, because (as I mentioned earlier) Berly made me. She gets three gold stars for making me aware, again again always again, that judgment is best left to judges and discernment requires seeing, not just looking.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
One thing that I liked about this book is that the characters all ring true - not always the case when an adult sets out to portray teenagers. Arnold Spirit, known to his friends as Junior, is growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Even among his own people he is a loser - born with water on the brain, the surgery to drain off the fluid caused brain damage that resulted in physical disabilities. He has vision impairment that can be corrected with the "ugly, thick, black plastic" glasses provided by Indian Health Services, seizures, a stutter and a lisp.

"You wouldn't think that there is anything life threatening about speech impediments, but let me tell you, there is nothing more dangerous than being a kid with a stutter and a lisp."

He spends a lot of his time getting beat up and being harassed. The bright spot in his life is that he has a best friend named Rowdy that often sticks up for him. Rowdy has his own troubles, but fitting in is not one of them. To release steam and pass the time (it is safer to stay in his room than to venture outside and get beaten up or picked on), Junior draws cartoons.

"I draw because words are too unpredictable. I draw because words are too limited....when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it. So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me."

Where everything takes a wicked turn is when he is given a geometry textbook that once belonged to his mother - the school on the reservation cannot afford new updated textbooks, and so it continues to use the old ones. This is the last straw for Junior who loves to learn more than anything else.

"I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That's right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that's kind of perverted or maybe it's just romantic and highly intelligent. But my lips and I stopped short when I saw this written on the inside front cover: THIS BOOK BELONGS TO AGNES ADAMS. ...Well let me tell you. Agnes Adams is my mother. MY MOTHER! And Adams is her maiden that means I was staring at a geometry book that was at least thirty years older than I was."

Junior comes up with a plan to transfer to the school in Reardan, "the rich white farm town that sits in the wheat fields exactly twenty-two miles from the rez. And it's a hick town, I suppose, filled with farmers and rednecks and racist cops who stop every Indian that drives through." While lacking in ambience and a warm welcome, what Reardan does have is one of the top schools in the state. As Junior sets his sights and his mind on Reardan, he will become even more of an outcast on the reservation because now he will not just be a loser, he will also be seen as a traitor.

"I was the only kid, white or Indian, who knew that Charles Dickens wrote 'A Tale of Two Cities'. And let me tell you, we Indians were the worst of times and those Reardan kids were the best of times. Those kids were magnificent. They knew everything. And they were beautiful. They were beautiful and smart. They were beautiful and smart and epic. They were filled with hope. I don't know if hope is white. But I do know that hope for me is like some mythical creature."

Arnold Spirit is funny and poignant and irreverent and his journey will break your heart one moment and make you laugh out loud the next - this is the best kind of book, the kind that changes how you think about things. Life is not always fair, but it is always filled with possibility. What I loved about Arnold Spirit is that while he might not understand hope, he is filled with the possibility of it and he reaches for it at every opportunity.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
Well deserving of the National Book Award, this is a fantastic work.

Junior (Arnold Spirit) is many things. He is an insecure 14 year old; He is a cartoonist; He is smart; He is funny; He is talented AND He is an American Indian living in poverty on a reservation.

He is a child of an alcoholic father who loves him. He is the product of strong women who influence him.

He is beat up daily because he is small. He is not so good looking and he was born with too much water on the brain.

The story is told from the diary of hydrocephalic Junior who courageously seeks a path that can lead to a better life.

Leaving the reservation school, he transfers to a school 22 miles from home. Perceived as a traitor by others on the reservation and finding it difficult to fit in with the richer folk of the new school, Junior feels half Indian in one place and half white in the other.

The story is so poetically written that I hated the book to end. Some passages are so incredibly sad that I wanted to cry and yet the over all feeling is not of depression but of hope. Written in a humorous, witty and poignant manner, this book is captivating from the first page till the last.

Thus far, this is one of my top reads for 2009.
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LibraryThing member lisab818
Junior, a high-school freshman, tells us his hilarious and poignant story of growing up on an Indian Reservation. The novel is quick, light, and humorous, while touching on many complex themes including poverty, bullying, death, and racism. Junior learns about himself and his culture by becoming brave enough to do the unthinkable- go to school off of the reservation.

This book does contain adult language and sexual humor, making it more appropriate for an older audience.

Classroom uses: fitting in, perseverance, death, cultural differences and awareness, friendship, self-discovery, modern Native Americans, poverty, understanding others
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LibraryThing member MickyFine
Arnold Spirit Junior has lived on the rez his entire fourteen years. So have his parents and his grandparents and every other person he knows. So when Junior decides to break the mold and go to high school, not at one of the rez schools, but to the (white) high school in Reardan, everything gets shaken up. He loses his best friend Rowdy, most of the Indians on the rez hate him, and he's left trying to figure out who he is. In the midst of this identity crisis, Junior also has to deal with several family dramas that make everything more difficult.

Alexie's novel is sharply witty while dealing with the difficult issues that surround life for First Nations people. He is unflinching in describing life on the reservation and the culture. But while race is a major issue in the novel and for Junior, the narrative itself focuses on many of the same issues of any other YA novel: navigating social groups, first romances, and the like. What I most enjoyed about the novel was Junior's sarcastic humour which comes out in both the text and his cartoons (illustrations by Ellen Forney). Particularly admirable, is Alexie's decision to occasionally have major plot events occur within a cartoon rather than the text itself, which as an author must be a difficult choice. Funny but also thought-provoking with reflections teen life, race, and the meaning of hope.
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LibraryThing member lynnm
While this is a very dark book as far as young adult literature goes, it's a fantastic read with a very compelling protagonist. Arthur Spirit "Junior" is a Spokane Indian living on a reservation where the future holds only the promises of alcoholism, violence, and most likely an early death. Born with many medical issues, Junior manages to overcome them all and dreams of something better for himself. He convinces his parents to let him attend the nearest "white" school where he finds himself even more of an outcast. But despite the multitude of things working against him, Junior never loses hope.

This book does not shy away from the misery that life on the reservation entails. Most adults have a drinking problem. Violence is prevalent. Junior is often the target of bullies. His family is barely functional, his father an alcoholic, money always in short supply. Told in any other way, this story would almost be unbearable because of the hardships that Junior endures.

But Junior approaches his world with a mixture of humor, acceptance, and determination that he can have something different. The book is sprinkled with Junior's drawings and cartoons, illustrating his take on the life he's been handed.

In the end, this is not an easy read. But it's well worth it because Junior never loses hope or his faith that things can get better.
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LibraryThing member sharlene_w
Assigned by professor of college course my daughter was taking. She enjoyed it so much she recommended it to me. I can't remember a book I enjoyed more on so many levels. While seemingly a simple book about a teenager on a reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, Sherman Alexie covers a myriad of topics personalized by his own experience. Alcoholism, lack of work, racism, isolation, physical abuse, and poverty are all addressed in sometimes humorous, but always thought-provoking way. A better lesson on the Native American's experience on the reservation than you could get from any history book. Very highly recommended--especially the audio version read by the author!… (more)
LibraryThing member FionaCat
I had never read anything by Alexie but I will seek out his other books after reading this one. In other hands, written less deftly and without the right touch of humor, this story would be maudlin and depressing. Truly, the plight of the modern Indian living "on the rez" is one that isn't seen by most non-Indians. Without the sardonically humorous voice of Arnold Spirit, the narrator, it would be hard to deal with the heart-breaking tragedy that is daily life on the rez. And that is the point. The only way Arnold can cope with his life is to take refuge in humor and his cartoons. If he does not, he will become as defeated as the rest of his fellow tribe members.

Arnold, born with water on the brain, has suffered health problems all his life. He stutters, lisps, and "looks like a capital L" when seen from the side because of his skinny build and extra large feet. The kids on the rez have always picked on him and beat him up. When a teacher urges him to transfer to the all-white high school in a nearby town, Arnold surprises himself with the courage to do just that. It is hard, but life has always been hard for him, and he copes in his own inimitable way.

In time he makes friends at school while at the same time losing his grandmother and other family members to senseless deaths. The root of all evil on the rez, it seems, is alcohol and Arnold is clear sighted enough to see it. His only hope of escaping the vicious cycle of alcoholism and poverty is to leave the rez and make his way in the white world.

Poignant and hilarious at the same time, this is a wonderful book. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member shelf-employed
Alcoholism, bullying, bigotry, racism, violence, masturbation, bulimia, obscenities – they all show up here in Sherman Alexie’s newest book, guaranteeing that it will be controversial; but yet – the book’s message is positive, funny, real, and not the least bit didactic. Reviews note that the character of Junior is somewhat autobiographical, explaining the protagonist’s honesty and believability. He is part Arnold-part Junior, part White-part Indian, part geek-part athlete, and an endearing mix of part chicken-part warrior. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel which is literally and figuratively animated by the hilarious cartoon illustrations of Ellen Forney.

I don’t know if Junior’s views on the nature of Indian life and reservations are widely held within the culture, but I am pleased to see that The Absolutely True Diary… won the inaugural American Indian Youth Literature Award for young adults. Knowing that the title has the blessing of those within the Indian culture is yet another reason to recommend this book. Junior’s ultimate realization that he has a rightful and natural place within many “tribes,” and that each of us must follow our own inner calling, is a fitting end to this coming-of-age novel of a “part-time Indian.”
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LibraryThing member cestovatela
Sherman Alexie is fast becoming one of my favorite authors, and this young adult novel sums up all the reasons why. Junior, the main character, is a high school freshman who has something no one else on his reservation possesses: hope. To keep it, he will have to do something no one on "the rez" has ever done: leave behind the stultifying Indian high school to study in the white, affluent town nearby. Not unexpectedly, his decision comes at a price. Scrawny and epileptic, he had never fit in on the reservation; now, though, he becomes an outsider who's less than Indian. Ironically, at his new school, being a poor Indian defines him. The novel is mostly Junior's reckoning with the injustice and tragedy that surrounds him -- both the ones inflicted by history on the whole of the Native American people, and the wounds his fellow Indians inflict upon themselves.

What I particularly admired about this novel was the way that every single character, whether Native American or white, was a three-dimensional human being. Through the eyes of Junior, whose outsider status gives him both wisdom and compassion, Alexie makes each character sympathetic in some small way. Even when we can't approve of the way they behave, we understand the deeper hurt behind their actions.

This novel is classified as young adult because it's narrated by a teenager, not because the themes or writing style are less complex than a book for adults. I feel like everyone should read this; it's easy to get through, but it offers a much-needed glimpse into a rarely represented world, and it accomplishes the rare feat of examining prejudice without demonizing anyone. I am certain this will go on my list of best reads of 2009.
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LibraryThing member MrsHillReads
What a great book! Loved the western feel. It explored what it is like to live on a reservation and what it takes to escape the failure associated with it. Seems like this book might appeal to the same person who loved "Stuck in Neutral". The cover isn't too appealing to the YA set.
LibraryThing member bookgal123
Funny and heartbreaking and beautiful. Due to the short length and the many pictures, I think even the most reluctant reader will be willing to pick this book up. And once they pick it up, I don't think they'll be able to put it down. Junior is a very real, very sympathetic character, and his life (for me at least) was gripping in its strangeness and its familiarity. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.… (more)
LibraryThing member hullr
This book is one of the more enjoyable books I've read so far. Its about a poor Indian boy named Arnold or "Junior" and his interactions with his tribe-mates and the white kids at Reardan high school. I also found while reading this book that time flows by you because the contents are really funny and exciting. The only down fall to this book was the first 70 pages or so because I found them so boring and just not interesting. But other than that, I'd recomend this book to ages 11 and up. I had a great time reading this book and I hope you do to.
Pages. 230
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Junior has a damaged brain that seems to work very well, his best friend hates him, his new girlfriend is only partly his girlfriend, people in his new school can eat whole meals while sometimes all he has is crackers because his extended family has descended on his house for a funeral and eaten all his food. His new school friends may have attended the funeral of a grandparent, he has been to 42 funerals. This coming of age story of a young man growing up on an Indian reservation covers the themes of bullying, education, friendship, family love, alcoholism, racism, basketball, poverty, courage and hope. I recommend it to anyone interested in trying to figure out how to survive in an overwhelming world (which is all of us.)… (more)
LibraryThing member omphalos02
Very funny and poignant YA novel about a teen trying to improve his life and outlook, despite some hefty set backs. Would love to read more by Alexie.
LibraryThing member Gwendydd
Simultaneously hilarious and heart-wrenching, and ultimately full of hope and redemption. Arnold Spirit is born to a very poor family on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He knows that his future as a Native American is dismal, full of poverty, violence, and alcoholism. The only way he can escape this future is to go to a white school, which his friends and family see as a rejection of his Native American culture.

The book grapples with a lot of big issues, and has some incredibly sad moments. It is funny though - sometimes because laughter is the only way to cope with the pain. Ultimately it is about the persistence of love between family and friends.

If I have any complaint about the book, it is that it is too hopeful, and seems to sugar-coat some of the hardships of Native American life. Arnold is very lucky because he has a loving and supportive family. The story would be very different if it were told from the point of view of his best friend Rowdy.
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LibraryThing member bnbooklady
What sets this book apart from the YA lit masses is that the author manages to tell a great story and explore themes about identity and culture that many authors shy away from. Junior is like a man without a country. He is too smart to choose to continue living on the impoverished reservation where everyone knows him, his family, and all of their secrets, but he sticks out like a sore thumb at the affluent all-white school, and he can’t really imagine how he’s going to make a future in the white world.

Junior’s struggle to develop his cultural and personal identities, to navigate the choppy waters of adolescence, and to separate from his family enough to look at them with a little perspective will resonate with readers from privileged and minority groups alike. His alternating confidence and self-doubt will be familiar terrain, and the lessons he learns, whether you’re hearing them for the first time or the thousandth, will remind you of what it’s like to be a teenager, or, if you are still one, will give you hope that life really does become more bearable.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and while I can understand that the bit about masturbation might not appeal to some readers, I think the vast majority of Junior’s story is uncontroversial and definitely worth checking out. Alexie treats his characters with kindness, insight, and great humor, and I will definitely be recommending The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to teen readers (and reassuring their parents when necessary).

Read my full review at The Book Lady's Blog.
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LibraryThing member ConanTheLibr
I loved this book to pieces! A largely autobiographical bildungsroman (I've always wanted to use that word!). Junior, our hero, is growing up on the Spokane reservation, surrounded by a loving, quirky set of relatives, many of whom live in the clutches of alcoholism. He decides to leave the Rez school and enroll in a nearby public school when he receives a textbook at the beginning of the semester which still has his mother's name in it. Alexie manages to write with a mixture of compassion, pride, embarrassment, and anger over circumstances. He doesn't ask the reader to feel sorry for Junior, and while there is certainly much realism there are also hysterically funny descriptions of teen angst and shenanigans. Ultimately, one is left with a sense of self-pride and hope on Junior's part.… (more)
LibraryThing member SandDune
When Junior, a 14 year old Indian boy living on a reservation, discovers on his first day at high school that his geometry book once belonged to his mother when she was in the same school thirty years ago, he is so angry with what that says about the poverty of his school and tribe that he throws the book at the wall. Unfortunately, his teacher, Mr P, is standing between him and the wall and gets his nose broken in the process. So Junior, who has never been in serious trouble in his life, is suspended. But when Mr P comes round to his house to talk to him, the conversation does not go as expected and Junior ends up making a life-changing decision: to leave his reservation high school where he is being taught to give up hope, as his parents were before him, and go to the high school in the white, prosperous town of Reardon 22 miles away. But leaving the reservation high school will be seen as a betrayal by the people around him, and in particular by Rowdy his best friend. But Junior is a fighter: he was born with hydrocephalus and survived, albeit with physical problems, against the expectations of his parents and doctors; he's been beaten up since he was a young child because he looks different and has a speech impediment; and he can survive this.

This is a sad book in many ways. As he comes to terms with the different unwritten rules that seem to apply to behaviour in his new school, Junior's world is rocked by a series of deaths on the reservation, all alcohol related and all needless, but not so very unexpected: at the age of 14 Junior has been to 44 funerals in his life while most of his white classmates have been to a couple at most. But it's also a heart-warming and refreshing book without being in any way sentimental. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member WhitneyActon
This story is about a young Indian boy living on a reservation in poverty. In the story, Junior reveals his torments through his own words as well as his drawings. He faces his freshman year of high school, where he is tormented for his different looks and his speech impediment. The story concludes with Junior losing his best friend, his dog Oscar, as his dad has to shot him because he cannot afford to take him to the vet.
I think it is important to connect Junior's creativity and differences from his peers to the students. I think it is important to point out that these differences are what make not only junior unique as a person, but also make this story interesting. Also, I think that the bullying in the story is an important teaching point to build off on. I think that it is important to discuss what causes the bullying and why bullying does not need to happen and discuss why differences in people are good for each other.
I really enjoyed reading this story because it was different from the typical short story. I enjoyed it because it really is written from the point of view of Junior, as illustrated through his drawings throughout the story. I also liked that he was not the normal young teenage boy, as he describes his speak impediment as well his failings socially with the bullying that he experiences at the powwow as well as school.
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LibraryThing member michelle.mount
A fast entertaining read. But somewhere after the first half the book lost a grip of belivability. Instead of appearing to be raw diary-style or "absolutely true" as it did at first, book started to give off the smell of a kid who flirts with exagerations untill they hit the wall of totally unbelievable.

Some cute characters and interesting revalations about life on the reseravation as it can best be studied, in contrast to small town America.… (more)


Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (2009), Edition: Reprint, 229 pages


Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Media reviews

Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting after school for a ride home.


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Physical description

229 p.; 8.25 inches


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