Review of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sam FraleyDecember 31, 2016A Lens on LearningMedia

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie a boy named Junior narrates his experience living on a reservation.

The book starts by explaining some background information about Junior: He has a sister, loves to draw cartoons, plays basketball, and was born with “water in my brain,” so he has to be alert for seizures. The author paints a vivid picture of life on the “rez” (short for reservation), which is portrayed almost as a dead end. Most families don’t have any money, or many hopes for their kids’ future. After a change in events, Junior decides that he doesn’t want to submit to the normal cycle: go to the rez high school with no hope of going to college. He decides he wants to go to a school outside the rez—an all-white school.

One aspect of the book that I really liked is that it is not a very challenging read, making it easier to focus on the material and message. It feels like Junior is talking to you; you can almost hear his voice. There is also an authentic feel to Junior’s dilemma and how he deals with it. The thoughts he has, the events that occur, and his outlook on different situations are written in such a way that it feels as if the author really is Junior. Finally, the book packs a punch emotionally. Junior has to deal with grief, hatred, and prejudice throughout the story, one example being how the relationship with his best friend fluctuates from beginning to end.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is also an emotionally inspiring book for several reasons. First, Junior’s attitude changes over the course of the story. In the beginning, Junior gives off an almost melancholy vibe, along with a sense of nonchalance. He feels like he has nowhere to go, and will go nowhere, which I think every teenager feels once and awhile. His views about his future change, however. He starts off thinking that he will amount to nothing, that he will end up exactly like his parents, have his own kids, and repeat the cycle. At the end of the book, Junior is still faced with the same struggles as in the beginning, such as poverty and racial tension, but he has a “new take on life.” Even if he doesn’t have the same opportunities as the kids he meets at the all-white school, he still has a chance. Junior feels if he tries his hardest, is focused and has a goal, he will end up okay, even if the road is hard. This is something I think teens can relate to.

School life is another important aspect of the story that also carries weight for some teen readers. The school on the rez is definitely poor, like a dead end. The book depicts some of the teachers and how they seem to share the same tired and sad vibe — a trademark of their experience. Opportunities appear distant, and while Junior is a bright student, he has limited resources so it seems that the chances of going on to a better education from there are slim. On the other hand, the all-white school is completely different. This school has diverse groups of kids, such as the “nerds” and “jocks,” with whom Junior mingles throughout the story. But, even though the kids have more money and a better school, the going-nowhere vibe persists, although in a different tone. Even if these kids seemingly have all the opportunities in the world, they still can make mistakes and miss out on a higher education. And social status is a big issue at the school. Popular kids worry about staying popular, and non-popular kids wish they were the opposite. I think these aspects really hit home with some readers, because of their real-world connection, even if the reader doesn’t go to a school on a reservation, like Junior.

In conclusion, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a great read for a teenager. There are some issues and content that would not suit younger children. While there is a lot that could still be explored in the characters, the book paints an in-depth portrait of the setting and characters. The author’s language is incredibly smooth and almost conversational. I do wish the book was longer, seeing as there is much more that could be explored about Junior and his future. The book ends at a suspended point, where Junior’s life is still changing and advancing, but you can tell there will be more to his story as time passes. The book ends in the midst of all these things, and this adds a really special effect; it leaves you thinking and wondering “what if?” Only a few books I’ve read ever do this.

Sam Fraley is 13 years old, and an avid reader, song writer and music junkie living in San Francisco, California.