9 Rated Books Book Reviews Smuggler Specialties YA Appreciation Month 2010

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

Title: The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian

Author: Sherman Alexie / Art by Ellen Forney

Genre: YA/ Contemporary

Publisher: Little, Brown (US)/Andersen Press (UK)
Publication Date: Re-print April 2009 (US)/ June 2008 (UK)
Paperback: 288 pages

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Bought.

Why did I read this book: It has been recommended to me by many people. All the rave reviews. All the awards it won. Neil Gaiman.

Review: I know I am reading a good book when it simultaneously breaks my heart into tiny million pieces and makes me laugh as the pieces are put together – over and over again. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is one such book. I heard only good, awesome things about it, about the many awards it won and the Neil Gaiman quote on the cover only helped me picking it up. But I was not prepared for what I found and I don’t think anyone could ever be prepared for it. The book was first published in the US back in 2007 and is a first person, semi-autobiographical account of Arnold Spirit, Jr’s life as a Spokane Indian living in the Reservation with his family, and his ultimate decision of going to an all-white school just outside the rez in search for a chance to have a future. It is filled with hope to its brim even as hope is something that Indians are not supposed to have.

The heartbreaking starts on page 1 as Junior starts telling his story about being born with “water in his brain” and the resulting physical damage: ranging from over-sized head, hands and feet, bad eyesight to seizures, stuttering and lisping. Being a child with all the aforementioned is bad enough but you can just about get away with being “cute” but being a 14 year old teenage boy is unbearable. Especially when you are bullied, constantly beaten up (careful with the head!) and called a “retard”.

Junior also has forty-two teeth – ten more than normal, and if I thought my heart was breaking on page 1, it was on page 2 that I truly learnt the meaning of a heart shattered with RAGE:

I went to the Indian Health Service to get some teeth pulled so I could eat normally, not like some slobbering vulture. But the Indian Health Service funded major dental work only once a year, so I had to have all ten extra teeth pulled in one day. And what’s more, our white dentist believed that Indians only felt half as much pain as white people did, so he only gave me half the Novocain.

And it continues. Junior is dirty poor, his father is an alcoholic, as are most Indians in the reservation; no one looks into the future, his sister has been living in their basement for years. He is constantly threatened with physical damage by bullies (some of them, ADULTS) . His best friend is his dog Oscar who has to be put down by his father because they can’t afford to take him to the vet when he gets sick. It is not all sadness though, he does have a best non-canine friend in Rowdy, another teen whom he has been friends with since childhood, his grandmother and his drawings. You see, Junior loves to read and draw comics and wants to be a cartoonist one day:

I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.

His cartoons are inserted throughout the narrative and complement it perfectly sometimes being the much needed funny break to what is being described.

What is most impressive about the narrative: that all of the horrible, tragic, things that happen to Junior don’t ever come across as being there merely for shock value or drama. The worst (or the best part?) is how it comes across as natural, as normal, as you know, things that happen. Shrug, shrug move on. The style is as though you are deep in conversation with your best friend who might as well be telling you how he went to the grocery store to buy a bottle of milk. That is in itself genius: not only because the reading flows but also because the narrative itself is part of the story. As though Junior, in narrating the story in such an easy way has assimilated the one idea that might bring him down and has brought down his family and ancestors. That Indians are good for nothing and deserve what they have. Over and over again, Junior will say something that will show how ingrained the self-loathing is, only to try and get pass that. This, as much as facing racial problems, poverty is perhaps Junior’s most important challenge. I get a sense of purpose in the storytelling.

And how does Junior start breaking the vicious circle though? It starts this one day at school when he is given a new book except the book is not new -it belonged to his own mother. Filled with sense of foreboding, Junior throws the book and it hits his teacher. In the aftermath, the same teacher impresses upon Junior the need for him to GET AWAY. He enrols at the all-white school and he is the only Indian attending it, if you don’t count their mascot. Surprisingly, he has a harder time with his fellow Indians back at the Rez for making this decision than he has with the white kids. He soon makes friends, joins the basketball team and even gets a white girlfriend. But these things don’t come easy, there is guilt, violence, heartbreak as Rowdy won’t have anything to do with him anymore and a reality that keeps dragging him down but Junior? Junior will not give up.

This is a story about identity too: Junior is at once part of his tribe and not a part of his tribe and the way that struggle is handled is superb. I thought that the fact that the ideas are never shorthanded to Indians = Good (the poor Victims) and Whites=Bad (Ultimate Evil). In fact, I think one of my favourite quotes in the book is and the one I shall use to close the review:

“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,” I said. “By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not”.

Notable Quotes/Parts: I love this quote with all my heart because it is filled with TRUTH:

But we reservation Indians don’t get to realise our dreams. We don’t get those chances. Or choices. We’re just poor. That’s all we are.

It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that somehow one deserves to be poor. You start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.

Additional Thoughts: This video is part Sherman Alexie reading from the book, a part that is HILARIOUS in which Junior and his geeky white friend talk about how books and reading give them boners. Then, he answers questions and talk about YA authors are welcoming and made of awesome.

Verdict: The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is unique, raw, funny as hell. A triumph in storytelling, filled with heartbreak but also so much warmth and I can’t recommend it enough.

Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection

Reading Next:The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty


  • Squishy133
    July 28, 2010 at 3:50 am

    Just your review made my heart want to snap and then glue itself together again. I must read this, it sounds fantastic. Thank you for the wonderful review.

  • KMont
    July 28, 2010 at 5:06 am

    Oh that is heartbreaking. A friend in elementary school, her brother had this water on the brain problem. And he was a total sweetheart. You just had to be willing to be patient with him and listen harder to what he would say. Which isn’t easy when kids are on the go go go and sometimes a little self-absorbed. I still hear about their family occasionally. Gosh, memory lane.

    OW! The teeth quote! OH my GOD!

    Despite that, oh Ana, this book sounds awesome. Getting it!

  • KMont
    July 28, 2010 at 5:10 am

    Oh my god, LMAO – “Good books give you a boner.” Watched the video AFTER I first commented. Hahahahha!

  • Ana
    July 28, 2010 at 5:24 am

    @Squishy133 – thanks 😀 I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    @Kenda – dude, that whole sequence is hilarious LOL. I loved his reading too. I heard he reads the audiobook and it is AWESOME.

  • Celine
    July 28, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Wonderful wonderful review and GAWD that interview/reading is fantastic. I think I’m a little in love with Sherman Alexie. (I totally agree with everything he says re the YA community btw. I am constantly stunned at the warmth, support and sheer lack of pomposity that exists in the community of YA authors and publishers. Maybe Alexie and I have just been lucky in our experiences, but I doubt it.)

  • Ana
    July 28, 2010 at 6:52 am

    I think I’m a little in love with Sherman Alexie.

    It’s ok, I can share him.

  • kemendraugh
    July 28, 2010 at 7:15 am

    I read this book and used it in my booktalk for my YA lit class. I totally agree with you. Heartbreakingly beautiful, and side splitting funny at the same time. One of my personal favourite parts is when his teacher comes to his house. It broke me.
    Great review!

  • NTE
    July 28, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I loved this book too – the style, the no-nonsense-ness, the fact that the author didn’t avoid any topic, no matter how personal or tragic or ridiculous. I just loved it.

  • Angie
    July 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    SUCH a great book. I watched that video just after finishing the book and it just plastered a huge smile on my face.

  • Holly
    July 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Excellent review! It was like I was reliving the wonderful experience of reading it for the first time.

  • Julia Karr
    July 29, 2010 at 4:28 am

    I love, love, LOVE this book! Sherman Alexie is a genius with a pen! (well, probably a computer!)

  • In My Mailbox (5) | One More Page
    August 22, 2010 at 4:37 am

    […] Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie The Book Smugglers have a good review for this, but I wasn’t about to pick it up until I saw the hardcover version in National for less than […]

  • Anonymous
    September 2, 2010 at 5:42 pm


  • Anonymous
    September 2, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    😀 🙂 🙁 😯 😕 8) 😆 😡 😛 😳 😥 👿 😈 🙄 😉 ❗ ❓ 💡 ➡ 😐 :mrgreen:

  • Anonymous
    September 2, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    This was a book i never expected to read, first of all it has a really stupid title that doesn’t even make since, but furthermore the main character is a retarded perverted little kid. Not only this but on top of it there is not one bit of humor in this book,not only is the author not one bit funny but he continually writes things that are just stupid. One such is when he writes about this idiot jr masturbating, but then on he describes how kids are supposed to get boners from reading a book. Well i hate to break it to you but Sherman Alexie you have no talent whatsoever in writing books.

  • Anonymous
    September 28, 2010 at 3:12 pm


  • The Book Smugglers » Blog Archive » Banned Books Week 2010
    October 1, 2010 at 12:03 am

    […] Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian Anderson, Laurie Halse. Twisted Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird […]

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | One More Page
    November 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    […] not going to lie – I only got this book because of two things: The Book Smugglers review and Neil Gaiman’s praise was the first thing you’ll see at the back of the book. Okay […]

  • James Bond....
    December 15, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    This book was truly unique and very entertaining. It showed the a realistic view on life. The writing by Sherman Alexie was raw, witty and humorous. I loved this book. 😀 I some times became frustrated with the negative attitude with junior but besides that loved how Alexie depicted life.

  • 10th Grade American Lit Student
    December 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    This book, considered inappropriate to some, contains very important life lessons that teenagers may not be albe to discover by simply talking to other people. This book brings to life the idea that teenagers all over the country are bullied because of their appearance. I learned a lot from this book, stuff that I wouldn’t have ever learned without reading. The “taboo topics” that Alexie brings up in this book are not ones that kids enjoy discussing with their parents or even peers. Reading about these controversial topics in a book helps you sear clear of the awkward conversations with parents. I do not think that this book should be banned, the life lessons are important. While this book is extremely inappropriate for younger kids, teenagers that have more maturity can handle the hars realities of this book.

  • A Night Owl
    January 3, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I would agree with 10th Grade American Lit Student. Kids don’t enjoy talking about these topics with parents or peers, but studies have shown that those who have important discussions about and are told the facts about things like drugs and alcohol are less likely to get into trouble with these topics later. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian not only provides facts about these topics but also can serve as a jumping off point for discussions with other people.

  • Anonymous
    February 12, 2011 at 10:08 am

    :mrgreen: this was an amazing book
    we had to read this book in class for 8th grade English it was so good i am going to keep this book and read it again and again 💡

  • Sherman Alexie
    March 4, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Thanks guys.

  • James Carroll
    March 8, 2011 at 12:19 am

    A GREAT book!!!! THE BEST!!!!

  • 10th Grader
    September 20, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I agree with this review wholeheartedly. I noticed that sometimes I would find myself crying, but soon after I would be laughing just as hard. The book was not overbearingly happy or sad, it was just honest. Sherman Alexie took experiences that he really lived through and put them in this book. True, some topics are difficult to read about. However, this book is written about a boy younger than us. If these events were happening to someone, you can’t just ban them from life. Why is it worse to read about these difficult things than to experience them?

  • Anonymous
    November 29, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: 🙄 💡 😐 🙁 😮 8) 😡 🙄 😈

  • Abby
    April 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    I agree with this review. While reading the book I was shedding tears and shocked by the brutal truth of reality. Yet Juniors humor that’s sprinkled throughout the book made the sadness bearable. Some of the topics in this novel can be seen as too serious or inappropriate for school, but Sherman Alexie has stated the truth which everyone is able to relate to. This book also teaches life lessons to young readers. Alcohol and alcoholism is not glorified and is shown to cause death. Junior even says in the book, “About 90% of the deaths [on the reservation] have been because of alcohol” (200). I think that this is an eye opening novel that all high-schoolers should read.

  • A.S.
    April 11, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I agree with Abby that Sherman Alexie did a great job of creating a book in which humor makes sad realities less harsh to read about. I also think that, even though this book contains some objectionable content, it is a good book to read in school. In high school, issues such as racism and alcoholism, to name a few, enter childrens’ lives. It is important for children to discuss these issues in a safe environment so that they realize the importance of making good decisions. A classroom is a great place to learn about coping with reality and thinking about consequences. In a classroom, children can openly share their opinions, and a teacher is present to help with anything. Even though this book contains some inappropriate content, I think that it should be allowed in school curriculums because students can learn lessons while reading it.

  • Kira
    May 5, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Good review 🙂
    but we had to read this book in school and that was horrible!
    First of all it was so boring at the beginning, the middle of the book, when Junior changes school, was a bit better, but then we began to speak about every detail in our English lessons and furthermore we had to write at least three texts about different things from the book, and that is the horrible thing about reading this book in class!!!
    I mean, I have nothing against this book, it’s not bad, but when I am reading a book, I want to read it ALONE and I want me to forge an opinion about the book MYSELF,
    and I DON’T need the support of a teacher who only gives us a lot of worksheets and (creative) work about it to do! And I don’t need to share my opinion about this book in class, because no one wants to hear it there!

  • Anonymous
    October 30, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.

  • zuhaib
    December 16, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    the book kind of puts Native Americans a bit down. But to my opinion, i believe e book is very wonderful. it teaches us not to give up when live is harsh and encourages people not to e racist because it has caused so much pain to those in the past.

  • zuhaib
    December 16, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    the book kind of puts Native Americans a bit down. But to my opinion, i believe e book is very wonderful. it teaches us not to give up when live is harsh and encourages people not to e racist because it has caused so much pain to those in the past.

  • Anonymous
    December 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    I think this book is excellently written. Although it is somewhat controversial it shows the true things that happen in a teenagers life. Although these are things people don’t want there kids or students learning about it doesn’t mean this book should be banned. Well done Sherman Alexie.

  • Anonymous
    July 10, 2013 at 10:47 am


  • Student
    September 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Dear Kira,
    I disagree 100%. I read this book in school in the 10th grade and it was one of the best books I have ever read in school. Not only did I
    learn about life on a reservation, but I got to know one of the most likeable protagonists ever. Juniors story is one that everyone can
    relate to one way or the other. Although this book has some inappropriate moments, that does not make it a bad book. There is so much to 
    Alexie’s writing and every child, no matter how old, should be able to experience.The fact that this book is banned anywhere is ridiculous.
    I am so happy that I was able to read this book and dissect it and understand the true meaning in class. If I had not read it at school, I
    would not have enjoyed this book nearly as much. I recommend this book to everybody, adult or child.

  • Mr. Alexie
    November 1, 2013 at 1:06 pm


  • Ayee_There*World
    November 6, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Honestly Im currently reading this book in my English class and find it extremely unique and funny at some parts I enjoyed it ( :

  • Heather
    November 23, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    I think this book is a good book for young adults because of the words they use . My daughter is 16 and Loves it .

  • Raina
    December 19, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    This was an amazing book to read:)

  • Dylan
    February 23, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    I am a Junior at Belmont University and this book was assigned for my third year writing class and I loved it. It made me really respect and appreciate my professor for choosing it as well. It is lower reading level book compared to other collegiate reads, but the messages and truth and life are just as hard hitting. This book was written in blood, tears of joy and laughter and even both extremes at the same time.

  • Catherine King
    September 18, 2014 at 3:21 am

    This was an amazing book and I loved it. I had only one problem with it, and that was how Penelope is set up with this eating disorder, this glaring flaw behind her perfect facade — it baffles Arnold, and then it never comes up again, even when they start to date.

    I wish I could be more specific, but I read this book years ago. I remember its brutal honesty and how it pulled no punches (most Newbery winners kill one character and call it a day. Most Newbery winning authors aren’t Sherman Alexie) yet managed to be amazingly funny and — despite it all — optimistic.

  • Matthew
    October 20, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    I had to review this book for a banned book project. I agree with the protestors in that the book shouldn’t be banned. The school board (Washington) made a good choice in reading the book then deciding what to do afterwards. Also Wyoming banned it from curriculum but not the school library. Good to see some common sense still being used.

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