The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Book Poster Image
Funny, gritty, and powerful novel of growing up on the rez.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 30 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 49 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A well-drawn look at the desperation that comes with living on the reservation. Readers and parents may want to examine the publisher's guide to delve more deeply into the book's themes and ideas.

Positive Messages

This is a heartfelt coming-of-age story about an often painful identity quest. Junior is determined and relentless in his quest to succeed and escape.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Junior is smart, good at drawing and basketball, and, unlike his friends and relatives, he has ambition and hope. As stated in the Kirkus review, even "Junior's knowledge that he must leave is rooted in love and respect for his family and the Spokane tribe." His identity quest differs from many cultural coming-of-age stories, but readers will appreciate his honest narration.

Violence

A man is shot, an old woman is killed by a drunk driver, fistfights, a suicide, an injury requiring stitches, a concussion, child and spousal abuse.

Sex

No sexual scenes, but mentions of masturbation, erections, kissing, a drawing of a bare bottom, disparaging use of "gay" and "faggot," a reference to getting hands into panties.

Language

Some swearing, including "s--t" and "f--k."

Consumerism

Many brands mentioned and used to differentiate between poor and rich, Native American and white. The hero loves a particular fast food.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Plenty of drinking and drunkenness, but none of it glamorized. This book's focus on alcoholism, drunk drivers, drunk fighting, as well as references to chewing tobacco and several illegal drugs, are meant to reflect the impoverished and hopeless life on the reservation.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this National Book Award winner presents a powerful look at the life of Native Americans on reservation, and the struggles one teen faces in an effort to escape. There is some gritty material including swearing, racism, homophobia, references to masturbation, erections -- and alcoholism is a major theme. Teens get in a number of fistfights and three people close to the main character die. Yet teen readers will get a lot from Junior's story: his sincere and sardonic voice is expressed not only in his writing but in his comics about his life, family, and friends. This device contributes a lightness to even the darkest moments, and allows Junior's anger and wit to come shining through.

User Reviews

Adult Written byImprovingeducation September 9, 2013

Some educational value does not compensate for a low reading level crass and vulgar book.

I read this book because it was on my son's school required reading list. I felt it was incredibly juvenile for a 10th grade honors English class. The sw... Continue reading
Parent of a 7 year old Written bye.tai09 October 1, 2009
I just finished reading this novel for my college english course. I'd have to say that when i first picked up the book, I wondered why we were reading it!... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byHeroOfLight94 January 2, 2009

my favorite book of all time next to drums girls and dangerous pie

this book i thought was going to be funny but what i get was an amazingly written tale of racism, homophobia, love, compassion, teen life, life on reservations,... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byfox10145 December 29, 2010

Great comedy

I choose to read this book for our "banned book" project. The masturbation mention seems to be the most controversial topic for this book. You should... Continue reading

What's the story?

Junior has more than his fair share of burdens. He was born hydrocephalic, and he lives on an Indian reservation where there is little hope or money, but plenty of alcoholics, including his parents. His sister hardly ever comes out of the basement. He gets beaten up a lot for looking weird. But he has a few things going for him too. He's smart, good at drawing and basketball, and, unlike his friends and relatives, he has ambition and hope. But when he decides to reach for more by going to a white school 22 miles away, his burdens grow even greater.

Is it any good?

What sounds in summary like a tale of unremitting woe is, in the hands of Sherman Alexie and illustrator Ellen Forney, powerfully moving and grimly witty. Junior's sincere and sardonic voice is expressed not only in his writing, but also in his comics about his life, family, and friends. This device contributes a lightness to even the darkest moments, and allows Junior's anger and wit to come shining through.

The hopelessness of life on the rez is almost inconceivable to those who don't live it, and Junior is determined and relentless in his quest to succeed and escape. This is not about coming to terms with the richness of one's culture. Though Junior has tremendous affection for his family, home, and tribe, he knows, and his parents know, that his only chance of a decent life is to claw his way out. In a book with many sad moments, that may be the saddest thing of all.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the awards this book has won. Did you know that it was National Book Award winner? Why do you think it won that award? If you take a look at the list of other award winners, are there others that you would like to read? What books would you nominate for this prize?

  • Also, did you know that the author based this book on his own life story? Does that surprise you? Does that change anything for you? Why do you think this is a young adult book, rather than a children's book or a book for adults?

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