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Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers$9.58The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Large Print Hardcover)
Publisher: Thorndike Press$23.95The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Library Binding)
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- ISBN-13: 9780316013680
- ISBN-10: 0316013684
- Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
- Publish Date: September 2007
- Page Count: 229
- Reading Level: Ages 12-17
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 70.
- Review Date: 2007-08-20
- Reviewer: Staff
Screenwriter, novelist and poet, Alexie bounds into YA with what might be a Native American equivalent of Angela’s Ashes, a coming-of-age story so well observed that its very rootedness in one specific culture is also what lends it universality, and so emotionally honest that the humor almost always proves painful. Presented as the diary of hydrocephalic 14-year-old cartoonist and Spokane Indian Arnold Spirit Jr., the novel revolves around Junior’s desperate hope of escaping the reservation. As he says of his drawings, “I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.” He transfers to a public school 22 miles away in a rich farm town where the only other Indian is the team mascot. Although his parents support his decision, everyone else on the rez sees him as a traitor, an apple (“red on the outside and white on the inside”), while at school most teachers and students project stereotypes onto him: “I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.” Readers begin to understand Junior’s determination as, over the course of the school year, alcoholism and self-destructive behaviors lead to the deaths of close relatives. Unlike protagonists in many YA novels who reclaim or retain ethnic ties in order to find their true selves, Junior must separate from his tribe in order to preserve his identity. Jazzy syntax and Forney’s witty cartoons examining Indian versus White attire and behavior transmute despair into dark humor; Alexie’s no-holds-barred jokes have the effect of throwing the seriousness of his themes into high relief. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)
Negotiating the boundaries between two worlds
Arnold Spirit Jr. has water on the brain. Born hydrocephalic, the Spokane Indian underwent surgery at six months. Because of his brain damage, he has 10 more teeth than most people, is nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other and suffers from migraines and seizures. He also stutters, lisps and has huge hands and feet. In fact, "Junior" has many physical irregularities, but there's nothing he struggles with more than sorting out the connection to his heritage.
Sherman Alexie's first novel for young adults is funny, self-deprecating and serious all at once. Closely based on Alexie's own experiences on the reservation, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian follows the 14-year-old narrator as he evades peer persecution and his family's poverty by transferring to an all-white schoolwhere the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Junior is scorned by those he leaves behind on the reservation, and his best friend Rowdy wants nothing to do with him. The only time they meet during their first year of high school is on the basketball court.
Junior escapes his troubles by drawing quirky cartoons (depicted in illustrations by graphic artist Ellen Forney), but he has more going for him than he knows. He becomes a star on his new school's varsity basketball team, many of his fellow classmates come to respect him, the hottest girl in school befriends him and even nerdy Gordy can admit that Junior is smarter than 99 percent of the high school. Junior's lack of confidence in his choices, however, causes him to berate himself during his 22-mile walk home from school. He feels displaced: Does he belong in the snobby, wealthy white culture or among the inebriated, impoverished Indians of the reservation?
With his perceptive narrator, Alexie deftly taps into the human desire to stand out while fitting in.