Based on Sherman Alexie’s autobiographical experiences and accompanied by Ellen Forney’s moving drawings, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the narrative of an adolescent Native American boy, Junior, also known as Arnold, who strives to break away from the life he is fated to live, and to forge for himself a new destiny and a self-identity. In this coming-of-age novel, Alexie equips his protagonist, Junior, with rich and descriptive language, and a unique narrative voice that blends dark humor with irony. Throughout this first-person narrative, Junior must balance between two worlds.
In learning about Junior’s personal experiences, readers also learn about the persistent struggles Native Americans face today, such as poverty, alcoholism, and overcoming racial stereotypes. Along with learning about a marginalized protagonist, readers also develop respect and empathy for the characters in the novel. Likewise, readers also gain insight into the lives of Native Americans and develop an understanding of some of the root causes for the hopelessness, the stereotypes, the racism, and the poverty that Native Americans face today. Readers will also learn about the historical background and the policies of the U.S., which have shaped the lives of communities living on reservations.
As a young cartoonist who is growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Junior is determined to carve out his own future. With the advice of one of his high school teachers, he makes the difficult decision to leave his school on the reservation in order to attend an all-white high school in a neighboring farm town, where he will be the only Indian other than the stereotyped school mascot.
Throughout this journey, Junior struggles with both familial and tribal expectations. Yet, he perseveres and longs for more than what the Reservation can provide for him. Middle school and high school readers will be able to identify with the challenges of being a new student in a new school while exploring thematic notions of individual and group identity, friendship, identity, home, and hope.
Other novels similar to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian that students may enjoy include:
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip M. Hoose
If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth
A Step from Heaven by An Na