Title & Author: The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Summary: Junior, a Spokane Indian, chooses to leave familiar surroundings to attend an all-white farm school where there are no other Indians, except for the school mascot. He faces challenges, both on and off the basketball court, and makes surprising inroads into, all while learning how to deal with tragedy and connections on the rez.
Reference: Alexie, S. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown.
My Impressions: I laughed outloud as I listened to the audio version of this book, read by the author. Having worked with Native Americans from near the area where the book is set, I could relate to so many things, from a non-Native perspective, and also from having an insider’s view of the tough choices that Native teens face every day. I use this book with Freshman English classes, who can’t wait to turn the page each day.
Professional Review: /* Starred Review */ “Gr 7–10— Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie's first young adult novel is a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old was born with water on the brain, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw. He says, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one's community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist's grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The many characters, on and off the rez, with whom he has dealings are portrayed with compassion and verve, particularly the adults in his extended family. Forney's simple pencil cartoons fit perfectly within the story and reflect the burgeoning artist within Junior. Reluctant readers can even skim the pictures and construct their own story based exclusively on Forney's illustrations. The teen's determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie's tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.”
Reference: Shoemaker, C. (2007, Sept. 1). [Review of the book The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie]. School Library Journal 53, (9),1900. Retrieved from http://schoollibraryjournal.com
Library Uses: For any school librarian, this book is an outreach-must to struggling readers, alternative groups of students, or anyone struggling to feel like they don’t know where they belong.