When Junior decides to leave his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation and attend a nearby all-white school, he’s met with resistance on both sides. Faced with racism, backlash from his friends and neighbors, and a sense of not really fitting in anywhere, Junior relies on his diary to track his tumultuous year. Full of funny, smart observations and cartoons, Junior’s diary chronicles his freshman year of high school.
This is a book that I should have read a long time ago. I don’t know why it took me as long as it did, but I do know that I wish I had read it when it came out. This is an important book, and no matter how readers feel about Alexie–who can be controversial for a number of reasons–they cannot deny that Alexie has tapped into something very real and very authentic with Part-Time Indian.
It helps that Alexie got his start as a poet before branching out into short stories and fiction. This is his first foray into the young adult genre, and he absolutely nails it. The pairing of cartoons and text is perfectly balanced, and the humor of Junior shines through both. Despite the raw deal that he’s been handed, Junior works hard to change his situation. His fierce love for the Spokane Reservation is clear, but he also acknowledges that he’ll never make it if he doesn’t leave it. This central paradox drives much of the book’s narrative, but it is Junior’s sharp observations about the people in his life that have the most lasting impact.
As Junior struggles to reconcile the fact that he no longer fits in at home and doesn’t fit in at his new white school, either, he also finds that people can still surprise him. This exploration of what it means to straddle two worlds–the Indian world and the white one–isn’t new for Alexie, but I think this might be his best attempt at it.
Seriously, if you haven’t read this: what are you waiting for? Highly, highly recommended. Smart, funny, and important for all readers.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Little, Brown Young Readers: 2007. Purchased copy.