The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


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Fact: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the best book ever written for young men.

Okay, that is probably debatable. You could still make strong cases for Tom Sawyer, The Outsiders or Hatchet, but the fact that it is even in the conversation ought to be enough. To me, Sherman Alexie’s* first attempt at young adult literature is an obvious #1 pick.

The semi-autobiographical book takes place on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, and follows the life of 14 year-old Arnold “Junior” Spirit. Junior grows up on the “Rez”, but after years of being made fun of and getting beat up at his reservation school, he makes the decision to transfer to Rearden High School 22 miles down the road. Naturally, his old classmates all feel betrayed by his leaving, and transitioning into his new school isn’t easy either. Junior, wishing he could just blend into the woodwork at his new school and leave his old problems behind, finds himself as the only Indian kid in the whole school (besides the school mascot, that is).

Young adults are asking a lot of questions about themselves at Junior’s age – Who am I? Where do I belong? What do I have to offer the world? – and Sherman Alexie writes an extremely accessible story that provides answers to all of those fundamentally adolescent questions. Junior is as self-conscious as every guy his age is, and he experiences a wide range of scenarios that force him to mature. Not only does he struggle with identity, autonomy and belonging, but he encounters racism, alcohol abuse, bulimia, and even death. As heavy as those subjects may be, everything Sherman Alexie writes is laced with his dry and witty humor which makes it extremely accessible to young audiences.

Not only is it accessible, but it also normalizes Junior’s adolescent experiences into a way that every young man can relate. He battles emotional instability, bullying, dealing with parents, hormones and the opposite sex. Junior even admits to being an chronic masturbator (an ambidextrous one too!), which is something every adolescent male needs to hear about and have normalized for them. Young men will read this book and have a different outlook on their own sense of self. The will learn to normalize their own personal narrative and embrace what it means to be a man.

The book has already been banned in a few different school districts, and a quick scan through user reviews yields a number of individuals who are opposed to how open Alexie is with the issues that Junior encounters. Some people would rather put blinders on young people than to allow them to wrestle with what it truly means to be a young person in the world today. But I’m not one of those people – 5 stars & 5 grenades, for sure.

* Sherman Alexie is also the author of our March iUMBC book, Reservation Blues. Keep an eye out for a March Preview coming soon.

About APC

Following his days in the Octagon, APC worked for an undisclosed amount of time tracking and studying a colony of Yetis in eastern Nepal (read more about his travels in his memoir, "Backgammon 101: Let the Yeti Win"). Nowadays, he spends his time in Havana fitting model ships inside glass bottles, and counting his gold bullions with his chimpanzee, Don Ultimo.
Currently Reading:
-Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
-East of Eden by John Stienbeck
-Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

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