Junior is a 14 year old boy growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. When he realizes that his only chance to improve his life comes from leaving the reservation, he transfers to a white high school off the res. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Junior’s story as he deals with finding his identity as he moves between two worlds. He is neither Indian nor white. It makes it hard for him to fit in on the res (his old best friend feels abandoned) and it takes a long while for him to make friends at his new school.
This book offers a great depiction of life in some of the poorest parts of the United States– Indian reservations. The issues of poverty and widespread alcoholism wind their way through the book; Junior’s life is impacted in big ways by both. Sometimes he doesn’t get dinner. Getting to school 22 miles away is a challenge when gas prices are up. Alcoholism destroys the lives of several of the people closest to Junior. I really appreciated this peek into modern res life because it isn’t something that I’ve had personal experience with or have seen much in literature.
This is a very “boy” book, if there is such a thing. There is talk about masturbation and erections, as well as other “boyish” topics like farting and basketball. Junior is pretty unapologetic about it all, too. I, for one, liked that these topics were included– they made Junior seem like an actual, honest teenage boy. Just keep in mind that you are dealing with a teenage boy narrator here, something I’m not sure that would appeal to everyone.
I listened to this on audiobook narrated by the author, who turns out to be an excellent narrator. I’m pretty big on accents in audiobooks and Alexie has that reservation Indian accent that I’m not sure I really realized existed (outside of stereotype) until listening to this whole book. Accents really lend an authenticity to the story for me and give me something I can’t easily imitate when reading, so this was a huge highlight for me. However, it seems that the print version of the book includes cartoons which you don’t get with an audiobook (obviously). I feel like this audiobook might be good for a reread or to be read in conjunction with the book. I hear the cartoons are great and I hate that I missed out on them. One day I’ll track this down and read it properly!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It had both funny and sad moments in it and it offered an interesting depiction of contemporary Native American life and identity. If you are looking for a male narrator who isn’t white (!), I’d highly recommend you check this out.