The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, art by Ellen Forney
Little, Brown books for Young Readers, 2007. 978-0316013680
Winner of the 2008 National Book Award
Synopsis: Junior isn’t like most people. Born with water on the brain, Junior often suffers from seizures; he wears glasses that don’t fit his face, his feet are too big for his body, and he speaks with a lisp. The one thing he seems to have going for him is his art. It’s how he makes sense of the world. It’s how he’s staying even a little bit sane when he becomes the only Indian at a high school full of white kids, when his best friend won’t speak to him, when his sister runs away to live the life of a romance novel. It’s what gives him hope during a year that seems hopeless.
Why I picked it up: This is another title that came highly recommended to me by my librarian colleagues and I thought it was time I pulled it off my shelf.
Why I finished it: I found out in the first few pages that Alexie wasn’t going to be pulling any punches. He told it like it was, and he didn’t shy away from any of the scary, awkward, gruesome details that come with growing up on an Indian reservation. In a lot of ways, Junior is a stereotype, and he’s willing to acknowledge this to a point. When it is proposed he leaves the reservation, it’s not only a way for him to help fight the stereotype, but a chance for him to make something better than himself, to be the person his parents could have been had someone believed in them. And really, I think everyone needs that: one person in our lives that is willing to believe in us, to help push us away from our comfort zone into the breech. And yet, Junior still feels as though he is living two separate lives, one much more surreal than the other. But despite the tragedies he faces and the challenges he overcomes, Junior finds a way to make sense of it all…well, mostly. Forney’s art is a delightful mix of realism and cartoonish humor, largely to reflect Junior’s mood or state of mind while he is drawing. It’s a way for the reader to truly experience how Junior is making sense of the world and how he is perceiving those around him. It’s a funny, heartbreaking story about how we face life’s challenges and how we learn to control the elements we can while coping with those we cannot.
Other related materials: Flight by Sherman Alexie; If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth; Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Lori Earley; Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell; My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson; Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sàenz; Winger by Andrew Smith, illustrated by Sam Bosma; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine; American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina; The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina; Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Peña; When I Was Young and Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago; Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah