Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publication Date: September 12, 2007
Hardcover, 230 pages
Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend and all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the authors own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live. - Summary from Goodreads
Okay, Sherman Alexie, I doubt that this book is ABSOLUTELY true, but if it is, it may just be the best Absolutely True (or Absolutely slightly changed) teenager story I have ever read. I can definitely understand how The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award. It has an amazing story about one boys adventure outside of his Indian Reservation, from where he was destined to be all his life to where he finally realizes he must leave the rez go to an all-white school. There, he learns who he truly is and realizes that he can be someone that he's never dreamed of being before. He understands that life on the rez doesn't have to be the only path of life he can take. Even that being an alcoholic is not the way he should live, despite the majority of the Indians he lives with are alcoholics.
I first was interested in this book not through seeing it on shelves or that nice shiny award on the cover, but rather, in a most peculiar way. In Massachusetts, starting from third grade every child in the public school systems must take an exam called MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) for all the basic curriculum topics, including reading and reading comprehension. One year, a reading comprehension story on the test was an excerpt from Sherman Alexie's book. It was a major basketball/life changing scene, where Junior takes on the huge, big bully, all-star, ex-best friend Rowdy in a match between his all-white team, Reardan, and his old rez team, Wellpinit. He creams them and humiliates them, and while basking in all his glory he turns around to see Rowdy and his old team. He knows that most of them haven't had anything to eat today. He imagines when Rowdy comes home to his drunken father, who will of course beat him to near-death for losing. He thinks about how none of them will go to college. None of them. He feels ashamed.
Junior is one of the most amazing characters of a story I have read in a long time. He had a fervid, strong voice from the start, and it only grew stronger through the story. Who knew a boy that was born with too much water in the brain, had constant seizures, ten extra teeth and "ugly, thick, black, plastic" glasses would soon be dating the most popular girl in Reardan, be close friends with Roger, the star of the football team, and join the varsity basketball team as a freshman? Who knew that those companions would deeply respect him for who he was, no matter how poor he was? But even more importantly, who knew that a boy so unimportant, so unnormal could be the strongest, most independent and brave person on an entire Indian Reservation? Junior had a lot of guts to leave Wellpinit High and go to an all-white school off the rez. He had alot of nerve to punch Roger in the face and give him a bloody nose. He had a lot of nerve to talk to Penelope, the pretty blonde. But what I loved most about him was his love/hate relationship with Rowdy, his best friend since birth. Rowdy started to hate him, swear and hit him after he left the rez. What I believe was the true reason behind the Rowdy's violence was not that he thought Junior was a trader, but more on the part that Rowdy loved Junior too much to see him leave. But I love the way Sherman describes their love for each other (no, not in that way) no matter what happened. I love how Sherman cleverly describes guy-love, how guys can love each other alot but since their boys they won't actually admit it. I find that extremely funny, but definitely one hundred percent true. And also most of the time, their way of showing love is by insulting each other, fighting or being rude. As Junior says, "Man, you gotta love someone that much to hate them that much, too." Rowdy and Junior's friendship was deeper than the crazy weird Turtle Lake, which according to Junior, " was, like, forever deep."
Juniors adventures are, strangely, very philosophical. He is hilarious, with his descriptions of people, places and events along with the fantastic comics that go along with his story. I love his drawings of his teachers and tribe-members, the two of whom are compared to volcanoes and chickens. But apart from all the silliness and hysterical-ness of it all, the deeper meaning is what I found was the best part. Junior has lived a particularly sad life. Being an Indian is not what most people think it is. They receive barely any money from the government, and a majority of adults in the reservations have developed a habit of spending that money on drugs and alcohol. Because of this, lots of members of his tribe die in car accidents, shootings or fights with each other while being intoxicated. These deaths cause grief for Junior, and he stays out of school for very long periods of time. He is rejected by everyone in his tribe on the rez except for his family, for being a trader and transferring schools. At one point, Junior even has to get stitches from angry rez members throwing things at him. Yet he manages to stick through it, persevere, let life go on, and stay passionate to his goal of finding success, (and himself!) in leaving his safe-zone and going to an all-white public school.
Sherman Alexie reveals a culture in America that has been widely forgotten. The ever changing lifestyle of American Indians is something that most Americans are unaware of. Alexie points out that many of the rich, cultural traditions, customs and rituals are fading, and the newer generations are becoming less and less aware of their what was once a deep, thriving way of life. However, there are still those, such as Junior, who are aware of the changes, and instead of following that main road, decide to go down the one less traveled by. The road that can make all the difference, the one that shows them who they really are, and who they can be when they know not to be pulled down by who they are expected to be. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a fantastic book filled with humor, wit, character, sadness, coolness (yes!) and pretty much just about anything a young adult reader would love.