The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a young-adult novel whose prevailing themes are about courage and determination. It’s also a story about self-identity and friendship. Race and poverty. The narrator of the story is Arnold Spirit aka “Junior”, who is a fourteen year old budding cartoonist who lives on the Indian reservation. Juniors journey is one that starts off with a precarious beginning and ends on a hopeful note.
When the story opens, we learn that Juniors a high school student living on the reservation with his parents and older sister Mary outside of Spokane. His father is an alcoholic who if he had realized his dream, would have been a musician. His mother, a recovering alcoholic would have been, if given the chance, teacher of the year. Last but not least, his sister Mary secretly writes romance novels. Like many on the reservation, the Spirits live in poverty. Juniors narration at times is laced with self-deprecating humor but heartbreaking in it’s stark reality about being poor:
It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start to believing that you’re poor because your stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.
One day, while in geometry class, Junior gets assigned a textbook that once belonged to his mother some 30 years ago. Fed up he lashes out at his teacher. Teacher and student talk–about life on the reservation which eventually leads to Junior having to make the biggest decision of his life: to leave the reservation if he ever wants to have a shot at a decent future. All around him he sees nothing but defeat. People who have given up on life, dreams and hope. So off he goes to an all white school some 22 miles from home. His parents are supportive of his decision but lack the financial means to get him to and from school everyday. However, leaving the reservation costs him his friendship and being labeled a traitor by his people.
Junior is an inspirational character for everybody, young and old. By no means was Juniors transition to a new school a smooth one but the author allows his character to find his path. Junior goes through many ups and downs and adjustments left and right to fit into his new school. The author delves into alcoholism and the detrimental effects it has on the overall community.
The conclusion of the story wasn’t all that neatly tied up but it did leave me with a smile. One of the themes I took away from the story was that you can’t let other people hold you back when you want to fly. Often your choices are not going to be easy or popular but you have to stand firm. You have to believe in yourself and have confidence and not be afraid to fail. You have to persevere despite the obstacles that may get in your way and Junior does just that and more.
The drawings (illustrated by Ellen Forney) are poignant and bring to life one boy’s determination to live life off the beaten path. Overall, this was a great story that should inspire many readers, young and old alike. Read this book. I read it in one sitting and it shall sit on my keeper shelf. My grade, A.
This book is currently available in hardcover, 240 pages, published by Little, Brown Young Readers.
[tags]Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian[/tags]