Sherman Alexie was exclusively a writer for adults until an imperfect excerpt from the memoir he was writing caught his attention. Alexie decided to extract this excerpt and turn it into a young adult novel, something his publisher had been bugging him to write for years.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a semi-autobiographical novel about Junior, a Native American teen growing up in the incredibly poor Spokane Indian reserve surrounded by alcohol abuse, poverty, and hopelessness. Junior is singled out in his community because – like Alexie – he was born with fluid in his brain which was extracted but caused a host of problems for him in later life including “susceptibility to seizure activity” and a noticeably large head. Junior was dubbed Orbit because of his large-ish head and often targeted by bullies in his community. Despite the almost insurmountable odds stacked up against inhabitants of Aboriginal reserves, Junior wants to GET OUT and, eventually, he does.
Choosing to go to a middle class white school outside of the reservation turns Junior from a minor target in his community to a major one when most of the other aboriginals living on his reserve view him as a traitor. Junior soldiers on despite escalating physical violence and total isolation from his community, with the exception of his parents. Although Junior is helpless as he watches his loved ones crash and burn, mostly at the hands of alcoholism, he claws his own way out of the horrific conditions in the Spokane Reserve and brings awareness to readers about the inherent racism against aboriginals, the attempts by white America to stamp out native culture, and the struggles of living on reserves today.
This book is unique because of the rarity of novels from the perspective of minorities, particularly in the young adult fiction genre, as well as the fact that this is actually an illustrated novel. Junior loves reading and drawing comics and Ellen Forney lends her hand to illustrate the comics that Junior produces about his home life and the deeply dark humour he finds in his own life on the reserve.
This book gives readers a true look into a still very hushed up subject. Everyone, adults included, should go read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.