Review by Abigail Fellin
Issues 14 year olds face: social clichés at school, homework assignments and grades, sports, trying to figure out where they belong in the world.
Issues 14 year old Junior has to face: social clichés at school, racism, the belief he will never do anything, being susceptible to seizures, poverty, a stutter, having the reservation turn its back on him, alcoholism, and trying to figure out where he belongs in the world.
Alexie approaches the typical coming-of-age story line with a unique perspective: a poor Native American who lives in an alcoholic community. I’m not sure how many YA books I have come across that are from the perspective of a young boy growing up on a reservation. While this book has been criticized for reinforcing stereotypes, it still offers one view of this experience.
Based on his own life events, Sherman Alexie tackles tough topics in his novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Junior has grown up on the Spokane Indian Reservation where poverty and alcoholism are norms. Not wanting to fall into the same fate his parents have, Junior decides to transfer to the all-white school, Reardan, 22 miles away. Here he is faced with racism in a school where the only other Native American is the school mascot.
While the novel has been banned in some school districts for mentions of masturbation and boners, there is still much to be learned from it. Junior allows adolescents and adults alike see a new outlook on life and forces readers to confront their own prejudices or lack of knowledge on reservation life. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has relatable struggles, powerful messages, and arguably a good role model for readers to look up to. While some of these messages and references to political and social injustices may be lost on younger audiences (10-12 years old), I find the novel appropriate for middle school readers.
Sherman Alexie’s novel can be found almost anywhere books are sold.