"Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend. Determined to receive a good education, Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside himself that he never knew existed.
"Inspired by his own experiences growing up, award-winning author Sherman Alexie chronicles the contemporary adolescence for one unlucky boy trying to rise above the life everyone expects him to live."
Let me state, first off, that I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for the simple fact that it was on the banned books list (again) for 2014. Like Captain Underpants (yes, seriously) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Bluest Eye, Sherman Alexie's novel has managed to appear on the list not once, not twice, but five times since its original publication in 2007. Although the banned books list for 2015 has not yet been released by the American Library Association, I have a suspicion that Alexie's novel will return to the list for a sixth consecutive year.
Now, while I did pick The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian because it ended up on another banned books list, I finished it because it is a great YA novel. Sherman Alexie does a wonderful job bringing Junior's character to life, offering an intimate glimpse into the conflicts he faces and the difficult choices he must make--and the person he becomes.
Junior is a smart kid, and he makes an intelligent, insightful narrator. He works hard to further his education and, at the recommendation of his teacher, sets out to learn at a local school beyond the reservation. Not only does he face being ostracized by his community for leaving, he's initially ridiculed by his peers at Reardan and endures the abandonment of his closest friend. He tells you his struggles, tells you what he thinks and feels, giving you a candid account of what it's like to be a kid who feels like a fish out of water.
Even though I didn't always relate to him, seeing how he has had much different life experiences, I always felt like I could connect to him. In telling his story, he shows the real struggles that all teenagers face: loss, love, friendship, failure, tragedy, bullying, parental and social expectations. His story can really connect to readers, showing the overall experiences that all teenagers are likely to face in high school. He's a wonderful, candid narrator with a heart of gold and he's a fantastic storyteller, appealing with his words and his illustrations.
There's just something about Alexie's novel that makes it so very enjoyable. Perhaps it's Junior's illustrations, or his storytelling abilities, or his story as he recounts his sudden move from the Spokane reservation to Reardan--or, perhaps, it's a combination of all three elements. Fine illustrations, a wonderful narrator, and a great story. Either way, I found The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian an immensely enjoyable novel.
Junior does use strong language and he touches upon mature themes, especially those entwined with his culture. He faces hardships that I will never know or even begin to understand. He has lived in a completely different world that, I'll admit, I have no knowledge of or experience with, which makes it difficult to relate to him.
But that's more a failing on my part than anything else. His story actually gives me the opportunity to broaden my horizons and understand a place, a time, and, yes, a unique culture that I wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to see.
Puberty, peer pressure, coming to grips with one's sexuality, bullying, social and cultural expectations--it's a very messy business.
For more on banned books, check out the ALA website: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics