The Absolutely True Part-Time Diary of an Indian
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
After a school incident provokes a teacher to challenge fifteen year-old Junior, he leaves the school on the Spokane Indian Reservation for an all-white school in a nearby town with better resources. At first, Junior’s new schoolmates shun him for being different, and at home, his friends shun him for being a traitor and leaving the reservation. Through cartoon drawings and frank narrative, Junior wrestles with his own sense of value and the value of his people.
I think part of what makes this story so powerful is the fact that we see not only Junior’s internal struggles as he wrestles with his identity and value, but that we see the culture and people of the reservation through his eyes as well. We clearly feel his warring love and frustration. We cringe at the gaffs of (sometimes) well-meaning white people who come to the reservation or who interact with Junior at school. I feel like it shouldn’t take a novel so poignantly written to take me outside my own point-of-view and really make me think about how things sound or come across, well-meaning or not. But the truth is that it does sometimes take being forced to imagine life from a completely perspective in order to succeed in doing so.
One of the things so vivid in the story is the poverty in which so many of the families lived. Sadly, stupidly, I had never even thought about this, and I’m ashamed to admit that. We talk about ending world hunger and people talk about children in the US being hungry, too. I just really hadn’t thought to look further for names and faces, if that makes sense?
I loved that though Junior’s diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, his story isn’t defined by this condition. He’s a talented artist and basketball player as well as a loving son, brother and friend. (This sounds like a eulogy…. He doesn’t die in the story, I promise.)
Another thing that was really well-described was the difference in the sense of community in the town of Reardon vs the sense of community at the reservation. Junior points things out directly a few times, but the story itself shows the ways in which the culture of each is different and how Junior responds differently in each place.
I’d been meaning to read this story for a while because several times I’ve heard of different school districts banning the book for the sexual content. I can understand how, as a conservative parent trying to teach your child that masturbation is morally wrong, handing your child a book which bluntly states that it’s something everyone does and everyone enjoys would be problematic.
On the one hand, I’m not a huge fan of book banning. On the other hand, I’m a fan of having freedom to raise children according to moral and spiritual doctrines of my choosing, even if they’re contrary to popular belief or opinion. So… I’d say it’s a tough call.
I also believe that issues like this within literature can make for a great opportunity to discuss beliefs and why our family believes certain things or does things a certain way that other people might not follow. But it’s certainly not the only opportunity for discussion.
I found this book to be a valuable voice in children’s literature. I understand why some parents might choose not to read this book or allow their kids to read it. Despite the brief content, though, I feel like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian gives an important perspective and, for me, was definitely worth reading.
Junior briefly discusses his feelings about masturbation – mainly, that everyone does it and everyone enjoys it. Later, one of his friends drags him to the library and describes being there as an experience which should give one a metaphorical “boner.”
Junior gives a gift to his best friend Rowdy, and Rowdy’s dad makes fun of the gesture, calling Junior derogatory names.
Junior has a girlfriend at school. They exchange brief kisses. Her father makes a somewhat crude comment warning Junior to keep his hands and other areas of interest to himself.
Brief references to cultural ceremonies.
After the loss of a family members and a dear friend, Junior grieves. He describes the process, saying at one point that he “mocked God.” A cartoon shows a crowd of people making fun of Jesus. While it’s not respectful of Christian faith, I tend to feel like we’ve all been there, you know? Angry with God in the midst of grief. I wish there had been more of a resolution to that part of Junior’s grief, but the truth is, there is not. So if this makes you uncomfortable, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is probably not going to be an easy read.
Junior gets beat up a lot on the reservation. His best friend’s father beats him up, and his friend in turn beats other kids up. Junior describes the social climate on the reservation as having strict rules which require you to pretty much fight anyone who insults you or your family. Later, off the reservation, a boy at school insults him, and Junior punches him and is puzzled when the boy doesn’t fight back.
References to drug abuse and alcoholism happening at the reservation. Junior’s dad is an alcoholic. Several deaths in the story have a direct relationship to alcohol abuse.