Sherman Alexie has written a funny, sad, unforgettable tale of a boy who leaves the rez (reservation) every day to go to the high school in town. He walks, hitch hikes, and finds all kinds of ways to get there. And it’s a place that really doesn’t want him. At least not at first. And going alienates him from people who think he has betrayed him. Including his best friend.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which won the National Book Award for young people’s literature, wasn’t written for me. I’m decades too old. But as a person who has found herself betwixt and between (hasn’t everybody?) I read this book with strong sympathy for Junior. I wanted to pick him up and take him to school! But I also found it difficult to read a teen-aged boy’s diary. Sometimes it felt as if I had invaded personal space. It felt too real. Maybe even “absolutely true.” He confronted serious topics like his own physical difficulties, alcoholism and poverty along with the teen-aged drama of trying out for the basketball team. His relationship with his best friend Rowdy was tough on my eyes, usually shaded with rose-colored glasses. But it felt real, difficult as it was.
But by then I really cared about Junior and wanted the best for him. And so I read on. And I laughed on. The book includes some wonderful cartoons drawn by Ellen Forney. They’re like scribblings taped onto the pages of the diary and they have a made-ya-look quality. They take a direct, unflinching look at teenager life with a generous dash of funny.
Junior is one of those characters who is going to stay with me for a long, long time. So glad I found his diary.