Sherman Alexie draws heavily from his experience growing up on an Indian reservation in Washington for the semi-autobiographical The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Arnold “Junior” Spirit struggles to fit in both in his culture and that of the nearby town where he attends school, trying to be his own man amidst the weight of his people’s expectations and the alienness of attending a white school.
This book succeeds on many levels. First, Junior is an engaging, witty protagonist with a determined attitude and a likeable nature. His relations with family and friends unfold realistically. The themes of fitting in versus being your own person are well crafted, and the conflicts are intelligent. His story runs the gamut of emotions, from exultation to heartbreak. Alexie’s prose is direct and searing, where every paragraph makes an impact on the story and the reader. Seeing life on the “rez” through Junior’s eyes gives insight into the bitter realities of Indian life–alcoholism, unemployment, loss of heritage.
The illustrations by Ellen Forney add to the story, providing dark comedy at exactly the right parts to keep the tale from being melodramatic or overbearing.