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


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is a moving young-adult offering from Sherman Alexie. The story centers around Junior, a teen living in a Spokane Indian reservation who decides to chase a better life by leaving his tribal high school for a better (and all-white) school in a nearby town. His home community feels he’s betrayed them even as he struggles to fit into his new environment. You have all the familiar teen problems on top of that, with racism, poverty and marginalization thrown in the mix.

Alexie covers this ground with sympathy and humor, sharing a narrative that references his own upbringing. Even before he leaves the reservation Junior is an outcast, a frequent target for bullies due to some disabilities (seizures associated with “water on the brain” at birth) and general nerdiness. After a rocky start, his new community is more accepting, although tragedy and some well-timed cross-the-tracks basketball games lead Junior to wonder where his loyalties lie.

Adult readers aren’t the target audience for the book, and they may feel ahead of the class as Junior explain every facet of his problems, leaving few insights for the reader to discover. Some of the characters fall into stereotypes as well, notably the “nerd” at the new school, Gordon, who takes on that robotic, overelaborate way of speaking that marks geeks in popular culture.

But the book is still well crafted, which is no surprise, given Alexie’s talent. It offers a clear view into another culture and also a firsthand look at poverty and the crippling effects of alcoholism, which the author captures with a sharp, matter-of-fact bluntness. Many teen readers will benefit from the perspective, and adults will likely find something to value in the brisk read also.