A Novel by Sherman Alexie
Art by Ellen Forney
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Ill. by Ellen Forney. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 9780316013680
This novel tells a fictional story of Junior, a teenage Native American growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He was born with many health issues and has therefore been picked on his entire life. He is determined to change his fate and receive a good education, so he leaves the reservation school and starts attending a predominantly white school in a neighboring farm town. Junior's story is about his desire to be better and achieve more, even though he has more than enough obstacles to deal with. Viewed as a traitor among his tribe, Junior tackles life with wit, humor, and perseverance.
This coming of age story will bring laughter and tears. Alexie has written this story from Junior's perspective, therefore causing readers to see things through his eyes. The text references Native American culture with words and phrases like "powwow," "deer-hide tepees," "half-breed Indian warrior," and "rez." Readers will take away the implication that many if not all Indian reservations are in poverty. This plays a major role of the story in the differences between Junior's two schools. While this is a fictional story, it brings to light the suffering and issues Native Americans around the US face in a modern world. Alexie writes about some of the discrimination of Native Americans in this book. For example, Junior recalls his dad being stopped three times in one week for "DWI: Driving While Indian."
Ellen Forney's illustrations are simple pencil cartoons that are humorous and entertaining. Junior is a budding cartoonist, so Forney's illustrations are essential drawn by Junior. In one illustration, Junior is split in half, half "white" and half "Indian" with descriptions of each person he has to be. Some illustrations look like notebook paper that has been torn out of a journal and pasted in the book. One of these is a drawing of Junior's dad drawn with long dark hair to represent the culture of some Native American tribes. All illustrations represent modern dress and living of the Spokane tribe. The only exaggerations are drawn that way to represent the stereotype of Native Americans.
This is a great story of staying true to yourself and not letting people, culture, or society get in your way of your dreams. This is definitely a YA book with some questionable situations of going up as a boy.
Review Excerpts & Awards
- "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." -School Library Journal
- "Alexie's humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience..." -Booklist
- "The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally-and hilariously and triumphantly-bent in this novel." -Horn Book (starred review)
- Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature
More Native American novels for young adults.
- Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative by Ignatia Broker
- Waterlily by Ella C. Deloria
- The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor
Have students write about times when they did not fit in and how they overcame their challenges. Does it relate to Junior's story?