The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

cover image for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAlexie, Sherman. (2007) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co.

Plot Summary:

Junior lives with a loving and close knit family on a reservation in Washington state, where he spends his days attempting to avoid getting picked on, messing around with his best friend, Rowdy, and drawing cartoons.  Born with persistent medical problems and into abject poverty, Junior approaches life with humor but no illusions as to what his chances are or regarding the unfair way in which he and his community have been treated.  After he punches his teacher, prompting from the teacher a confession and the advice to “go where there is hope” Junior tells his parents that he wants to transfer to the all white Reardon High.  His neighbors see the decision as an act of betrayal, but Junior is determined to go out and find hope – and possibly even find some to bring back to his community.

Critical Evaluation:

Told with elegance, humor, and wit, Alexi’s semi-autobiographical tale of one boy’s struggle to follow his dreams without losing his heritage is a must for any young adult collection and deserves all the praise it has gotten.  Alexie does not shy away from saying the truth, however hard it may be to hear.  The institutional poverty and discrimination he describes is neither downplayed nor romanticized and everyone in the book is portrayed with respect and honesty.  The balance between the difficult subject matter and Junior’s jokes and cartoons (drawn by Ellen Forney) is a delicate one and expertly done; the comedy acting as a counterpoint to the hopelessness and grief that surrounds Junior and allowing Alexie to delve deeply and often into depressing subject matter without overwhelming or losing readers.

Reader’s Annotation:

Juniors neighbor’s call him a traitor for transferring to Reardon High, where the only other Indian is the team mascot, but Junior is determined to go where he thinks he can find hope – and possibly carry some back home.

Author Information:

http://www.fallsapart.com/

@Sherman_Alexie

Genre:

Multicultural

Booktalking Ideas:

Alexie’s voice is so very distinctive and engaging, I would be tempted to just read the first chapter straight through.  Although I may need to edit for time and add some of the basic premise afterwards.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has unfortunately already been banned from many schools and has made the ALA’s top ten challenged book list several times.  While the sex and masturbation discussed in the book are often given as the reason, it’s clear that many people are disturbed by the frank discussion of poverty and racism.

Reasons for Choosing This Book:

When I read Alexie’s response to the New York Post article about young adult books being to dark I knew I had to read his novel.

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