Monday, October 14, 2019

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

I have been wanting to read this book for years, no less because my best friend Jenn loaned it to me a while ago and I need to read it and give it back.  I decided to read it during banned books week. It was the perfect week as it is included again on the 2018 list of most banned books.

Junior is growing up on a reservation in Spokane, Washington.  He was born with water on the brain and had to have surgery as a six-month-old that almost killed him.  He could have been brain damaged, but he is a very smart kid. He has other problems (like with his vision) caused by water on the brain and is picked on constantly.  His best friend Rowdy is the one person who understands him and helps to defend him against the bullies.

That all changes when Junior decides to leave the reservation and go to the closest white school to further his educational opportunities. Rowdy and pretty much the entire tribe think of him as a traitor.  Will Junior be able to fit in at his new school and will he be able to fit in with his tribe?

Junior loves to draw cartoons and they are included throughout the text.  I loved how they were part of the story and had provided moments of humor for sometimes very dire situations.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was both humorous and at times a very sad story.  I love how Junior realized his parents had a lot of love and support for him, but he also had to deal with his father’s alcoholism and his family’s poverty.  That lead to one of my favorite lines in the book, “Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance.  No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”  I realized a lot of the books I read, particularly the books I read in childhood, try to teach you that poverty is something you work through to become a stronger person.  Junior take a hard look at that and does not agree.  I thought this was quite profound.

As I was reading this book, I read about Sherman Alexie and discovered that not only is he considered one of the leading Native American authors of today, but he is also at the center of accusations as part of the Me-Too movement.  Can one separate the actions of the author from his work?  I think yes, otherwise I would be throwing most classics out the window (I’m looking at you Ernest Hemingway).  What do you think?

I read this novel with the eye on – why is it banned and I saw plenty of items that a parent could freak out about.  I had read it was a racist portrayal of Native Americans.  I think that is ironic when it is written by a Native American and is largely based on his childhood.  There is alcoholism in the novel, and Junior has an anti-religion page after some tragic deaths in his family.  He also waxes on about masturbation for a page or so at the start of the book. Any of these items could be something that someone could complain about to a school library. All in all, they would also definitely make it a novel that young adults would enjoy and identify with.

Favorite Quotes:
“I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

“You have to read a book three times before you know it.  The first time you read it for the story.  The plot . . . The second time you read a book you read it for its history.”

“There are all kinds of addicts, I guess.  We all have pain.  And we all look for ways to make the pain go away.”

“If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.”

Overall, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an excellent novel that made me both laugh and cry.  I loved Junior’s story and how it looked at some of the deep trials that a Native American teenager faced trying to find his place in the world and where he fits in.  It was a great coming of age story.  I loved its look at friendship, family, and loss.

Book Source:  My best friend Jenn loaned me this book. 


  1. Laura, I've been interested in reading this book as well. Thank you for your well-written, thoughtful review. I enjoyed reading your Favorite Quotes. I may try to find a used copy of this.

  2. I loved this book, but it's been awhile so I had fun reading your thoughts on it. I think not only can you separate a person's work with their personal life, but you must in some ways. But that's just me :)