YA

The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

absolutely trueThis book was absolutely nothing like what I expected. Perhaps because the cover reminded me of The Indian in the Cupboard I erroneously assumed the story was a middle grade title. Or the inclusion of cartoons lead me to believe this would be a more mature Captain Underpants. Either way, I started the book ready to enjoy a fish out of water tale sprinkled with hilarity. Instead, I found myself reading a raw and undeniably wrenching story of the experiences of a boy growing up on a Reservation.

Junior is a budding cartoonist who is living (or is waiting to die, depending on your point of view) on the Spokane reservation. Sensing that his life would be better if he got off the reservation, he starts attending a neighboring all white school. This experience gives Junior a new perspective that allows him to reflect on his life in a way that would have been impossible if he had stayed on the reservation. Slowly he sees how staying on the reservation will alter his life. But, if he leaves the reservation, who is he out in the world at large?

The author, Sherman Alexie, himself grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. This essential fact dramatically altered the lens through which I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Without knowing that the author was Native American and had based his writings on his own first hand experience I fear I would have chalked this story up to researched cliches. Instead, it felt like a powerful indictment of the reservation system and highlights the devastating effect alcohol has had on the Native American population.

This book is described as “heartbreaking, funny and beautifully written.” All of those things are true. But this book does more that entertain. It shows, elegantly, that Native Americans on reservations are not unlike other marginalized populations around the world. The more we see a similarity in someone different than ourselves, the more we can work together for change. This book felt vital and important. I only regret that I had it sitting there, waiting, for so long.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever misjudged a book by its cover only to be pleasantly surprised?


6 thoughts on “The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

  1. This is not the first time I’ve read a review for this book where the blogger was expecting an entirely different book! I love it. I never read The Indian in the Cupboard, but I was aware of the book when I was younger, so it didn’t really influence me when I read this book a few years ago.

    I’m glad you liked it! It definitely packs a punch. It’s so eye opening about the reality of NA adolescents in the U.S., but also so relatable on so many levels.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read Alexie’s book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven years ago for university. It was really good. Encouraged me to pick up his novel Flight too, though it’s another unfortunate casualty of my tendency—especially at that time—to buy a lot more books than I am actively reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read it back in late…2010 I think, so it’s been while, but it certainly left an impression. It’s a collection of short stories about people living on a reservation, with characters recurring throughout. The movie Smoke Signals was made based off of one of the running narratives in it. Alexie wrote the screenplay for it.

    Liked by 1 person

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