The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Title: The Absolutely True Diary
of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publication Year: 2007
Pages: 228
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Count for Year: 39

How I discovered:

I entered an online reading challenge called 342,745 Ways To Herd Cats and the host of the challenge had it on her list. I didn’t realize it, but I also knew of Alexie from his work on the movie Smoke Signals, which was based on his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

The setup:

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.

Hands down, this is the best book I’ve read this year. I have given other 10 out of 10s in my final analysis, but this one takes the proverbial cake for having all the ingredients: comedy AND tragedy, love AND hate (“Yessirree! It’s love that’s won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!”), yadda yadda yadda. It’s got it, even words AND pictures, in the form of cartoons drawn by artist Ellen Forney.

In some ways, Arnold Spirit Jr. reminds me of the movie The Mighty, which was based on the book Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. He is a character like Max Kane, who is a little outside what is considered normal, and who has a best friend, in this case, Rowdy, who helps him overcome his “abnormality” (if that’s really what being Native American is, which I’m not saying it is, that’s why I use the quotes). Or maybe better said, what others perceive as abnormality.

Like the aforementioned movie, in which Max falls in love with books, so does Arnold with the help of one of his classmates, Gordy. What follows is a conversation between the two (sans, unfortunately one of Forney’s cartoons in the middle, but still hilarious, nonetheless):

“You read a book for the story, for each of its words,” Gordy said, “and you draw your cartoons for the story, for each of the words and images. And, yeah, you need to take that seriously, but you should also read and draw because really good books and cartoons give you a boner.”

I was shocked:

“Did you just say books should give me a boner?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah…don’t you get excited about books?”

“I don’t think that you’re supposed to get that excited about books.”

Of course, Gordy goes on to explain that he means a metaphorical boner, in that you should be excited about books.

This section is probably my favorite section in the entire book, although Alexie has many such sections that make you laugh.

However, it’s not all a barrel of sunshine either and Alexie doesn’t pull any punches on the issues that face the contemporary Native American on the reservations, especially the No. 1 “issue”: alcoholism.

All my white friends can count their deaths on one hand.

I can count my fingers, toes, arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose, penis, butt cheeks, and nipples, and still not get close to the my deaths.

And you know what the worst part is? The unhappy part? About 90 percent of the deaths have been because of alcohol.

Gordy gave me this book by a Russian dude named Tolstoy who wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Well, I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn’t know Indians. And he didn’t know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reasons: the fricking booze.

Yep, so let me pour a drink for Tolstoy and let him hard about the true definition of unhappy families.

So like I said comedy AND tragedy, but in the end, love wins and hate is down for the count.

Final analysis: as if I didn’t telegraph this one: 10 out of 10. Go read this book now! Don’t wait.

Others’ reviews:

17 responses to “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

  1. Pingback: TSS: Top five books I read this year and looking ahead « Unfinished Person

  2. Pingback: Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian « Book Addiction

  3. Pingback: links for 2008-10-30 « YA Fabulous!

  4. Great review! I’ve heard of this book, but never read it – now I will have to consider it.

  5. Pingback: The end of BBAW: Highlighting my top three reviews and six bloggers new to me « Unfinished Person

  6. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: Looking back on the last month, the last week « Unfinished Person

  7. Alright, you’ve sold me! I’ve been interested in this book, but not so much that I’ve gone out and gotten a copy. But I think I’ll have to do that this afternoon. Thanks for the review.

  8. I have this one on my list of books to consider, now I have to go get it right away! I love YA literature, especially as a middle school teacher!

  9. Pingback: The Sunday Salon: Ron Hansen, M.T. Anderson and Thomas Wolfe « Unfinished Person

  10. unfinishedperson

    Thanks, all, for the kind comments. Now to add your reviews to the bottom of my post as well.

  11. Oh, I did link your review to mine, since I’m being so obnoxious! ;D It is a note at the bottom.

  12. I got to meet him this weekend!


    I got the book signed and I left in a fever high, but got to the conference door and remembered I forgot to get his picture. So, I go back and get in line to have my picture made. When I reach him, I explain I was there early and I just want to get a picture and he says, “Sure Maggie! I did get your name right?” I was in heaven! 😀

  13. I loved this book, too. Do you mind if I link your review to mine?

  14. Thanks for the review!

  15. I am so, so thrilled you loved this book. I read it after a powerful review from one of the many blogs I read (I wish I could remember which). I remember how this was pinged to be one of the award books (besides the National Book Award, of course), via the Printz or something similar and it wasn’t a people were horrified. Boy, I remember that, it was almost a scandal to some folks. Good times. XD

    I loved Arnold’s friends. I especially like the rendering of the photo of him and Rowdy towards the end of the book; remember? The inscription broke my heart because of the truth of it, underlying how much society–both the Indian and the American–tells him he can’t reach out, can’t do all these things, but yet he still tries.

    Totally a beautiful book and I’m glad you liked it. I reviewed it here, although now I wish I had thought to pull some of my favorite quotes from the reading. Perhaps I’ll go back to it now.

  16. Oooh, I love a rave review! I’m putting this on my list! Thanks.

  17. sharingmystory

    That’s the kind of review I’ve been waiting for – now I know why I need to read this book. 🙂 Thanks!