Genre: Fiction, Bildungsroman
Book Jacket Synopsis: “Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend. Determined to receive a good education, Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed.”
Review: I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this book, but it certainly wasn’t a poignant, funny, heart-wrenching look into the life of a boy who doesn’t quite have a place in the world. I definitely noticed some parallels between this book and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was another unexpected surprise. Sherman Alexie’s prose is really unique, which allowed Junior to be very endearing narrator. I particularly liked Junior’s musings on his relationships with friends, family, and enemies. For example, when Junior realizes that his perfect, white, “friend with potential,” Penelope, has an eating disorder, he remarks:
“She was in pain and I loved her, sort of loved her, I guess, so I kind of had to love her pain, too.”
And when he thinks about his well-meaning but regularly drunk father, who somehow manages to never miss any of Junior’s organized events, he says:
“He may not have loved me perfectly, but he loved me as well as he could.”
It was moments like these that made me pause, that made me re-read the thoughtful words of Junior Spirit. Altogether, I think one of the biggest strengths of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is that it is very accessible to many different demographics. Junior’s accompanying cartoon illustrations will trick any young, reluctant reader into at least giving this book a chance and, at 23 years old, I found that it was certainly a worthwhile read for adults as well.
Reason for Ban/Challenge: As a National Book Award Winner, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has certainly had its fair share of both positive and negative attention. Indeed, the National Coalition Against Censorship said that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was its most frequently defended title. Allegations against the book mainly focus on its content regarding alcohol, poverty, bullying, violence, sex, and death. However, Sherman Alexie himself noted that despite plenty of controversy surrounding the novel, he has “yet to receive a letter from a child somehow debilitated by the domestic violence, drug abuse, racism, poverty, sexuality, and murder contained in my book. To the contrary, kids as young as ten have sent me autobiographical letters written in crayon, complete with drawings inspired by my book, that are just as dark, terrifying, and redemptive as anything I’ve ever read.”