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


Alexie, Sherman.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Little, Brown, 2007.  $16.99, 256 pages.

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Reader’s Annotation:  Junior has more going for him than basketball skills and artistic ability, he has hope for a better life beyond the reservation.


Born with hydrocephalus (explained by Junior as “water on the brain”), Arnold “Junior” Spirit is at risk for seizures, stutters, in addition, he has terrible vision, is skinny and with his oversized head and hands and feet, he has earned the not so endearing nickname “Globe.”  Living with his ex-alcoholic mother, alcoholic and absent father, depressed sister, surrounded by other alcoholics, bullies, and just plain ignorance, Junior despairs at the standard of living on the reservation.  The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when he sees his mother’s name on the same textbook that he has to use in math class.  Although Junior accidentally breaks Mr. P’s nose when he throws the book out of frustration and anger, Mr. P visits Junior and encourages him to leave the reservation to attend Reardan High School, a white high school over twenty miles away.  When Junior takes his encouragement and, with the support of his family, enrolls in this other high school, he soon faces a multitude of other challenges, including a high stakes basketball game against his former classmates and school.


Sherman Alexie’s coming of age tale is a powerful story.  The extent of the despair and desperation to escape truly oppressive living situation is felt deeply though the book.  It is easy to feel sympathy and even pity for Junior’s character and his plight.  As one disaster after another is heaped upon him, the reader feels all his frustrations and longing for something better.  The beauty of this book is that despite all the realistic struggles, Alexie and Junior have a message of hope and offer a means of climbing out of the life that had trapped Junior for so many years.  Amazingly, it is the truth in this work that have brought criticism and the call for this book to be banned.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian deals with sex, masturbation, violence, alcoholism, bullying, poverty, ignorance uses profanity, and does not pull punches in portraying some of the common hardships found in the Native American culture and on reservations.  This book could easily be used to open up discussion of these controversial topics.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  illustrations, dark humor, basketball, high school relationships, family relationships, friendships, overcoming obstacles

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • You Know Where to Find Me  by Rachel Cohn
  • Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell
  • The Way by Joseph Bruchac

Awards Won and Reading Lists:

  • 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • 2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award
  • 2009 Odyssey Award (for the audiobook read by Sherman Alexie)

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Throwing the book at Mr. P
  • Self description of Junior
  • Reardan vs Wellnipit  basketball game

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does Junior use drawings to deal with his life?
  • How do you think the rest of Junior’s high school experience will be?
  • Compare and contrast Junior’s relationship with Gordy and Rowdy.
  • What elements of this novel might critics protest against?  What is your response?

Why I Chose It:

I chose this novel initially because I had heard how controversial it had been, with it being one of the top challenged books.  I was then sucked into Junior’s world, feeling for him every challenge, death, or tragedy that he had to face.  This novel brought to light aspects of reservation life and Native American culture that I have not had much experience with.