The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Cultural conflict makes this a compelling read
[amazon cover 0316013684]
By Sherman Alexie
(Reviewed by Carla Hedstrom)
This National Book Award Winner for 2007 is also one of the top ten best books for young adults in 2008, but don’t be put off: it’s also a good read for adults (as YA novels often are). Alexie introduced protagonist Arnold "Junior" Spirit in his novel The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and here he continues the story of this young boy growing up on the reservation.
Junior, a budding cartoonist, creates difficulties for himself when he decides that in order to get the best education he can, he needs to transfer from the reservation high school to the public school in the small town 22 miles away. His parents are willing to help him get there (when they have gas and when the car runs), but his best friend feels betrayed, and others on the reservation are upset that he has chosen a different path.
Another gift Junior has, besides drawing and intelligence, is basketball. He is small and skinny, but he’s a heckuva shooter—one who will be missed on the reservation team. However, it is this skill that makes it easier for him to become a part of the new school. One of the toughest things he has to do is play for his new school against his old teammates—a difficult situation at best.
There is no easy resolution to Junior’s story, nor should there be. Not only does he face the angst of adolescence, but he also faces cultural conflicts and dysfunction and heartbreak at home. Despite these problems, Junior’s resilience and good humor make for a good read, one that often has the reader smiling and laughing at the situations in which he finds himself. The cartoon illustrations drawn by Ellen Forney, which are interspersed throughout, add to the enjoyment and insight of this interesting character and his family.
Published April 17, 2009
Silver Planet Book Review Columnist