Review: Arnold Spirit Jr. was born with certain deficiencies. He lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation and attends school there…that is, until he throws a text book at a teacher. The teacher forgives Junior, but urges him to get out of the reservation if he wants to reach his full potential. After that incident, Junior attends school in an outside farm town called Reardan. At first, Junior is treated as an outcast, but eventually makes friends and even plays basketball for the team. Junior is treated as a traitor at home and is even ostracized by his former best friend, Rowdy. Junior’s life is further marked by tragedy when, both, his sister and grandmother pass away unexpectedly.
This novel is written in the vernacular-style of a teenager. The language is comical and helps to lighten the tone of many unfortunate events in the life of Junior. The drawings which accompany the text also help to lighten the mood and create of different kind of literary quality. Alexie, himself, is a well-celebrated writer for young adult literature and his style of writing seems to flow off of the page. His use of comedy and straight-forwardness give the novel a style that is very unique and of high quality.
I have read in numerous places that this novel is semi-biographical in that author, Sherman Alexie was raised on a Spokane Indian Reservation, he was born with a similar disorder as Junior and in high school, he did attend Reardan High School. This novel comes from his own experiences mixed in with his creative imagination. Alexie has won a number of awards for his writing for young adults and has experience as a Native American to back up this particular book.
Audience: Age 13+. This novel does contain some lewdness, as you would likely find in the diary or journal of any teenaged boy.
My Reaction: This book was hysterical and heart-wrenching. What a combination! I had very low expectations for the book from the beginning because Alexie uses the word, “retard” to describe himself (Junior) a number of times in the first chapter. This made me feel as though the book would be full of horrendous slurs, but after I got into the book, the language stopped bothering me. I also could not believe the chapter about Geometry, devoting a whole page to the admission of masturbation…but it was done in such a funny way. While some of the topics in the novel are not for the faint of heart, the book is really funny. The cartoons added to the hilarity. They helped chunk up the story and allowed me a chance to stop and absorb what I had read and relate it to the drawing. This book will definitely be a good recommendation for some reluctant readers, no younger than 13.
Themes: Coming of age, identity, community, disability, alcoholism, poverty, tradition, tragedy, Native Americans, multiculturalism
A few reasons for banning/challenge:
- cultural insensitivity
- offensive language
- sexually explicit
- unsuited for age group
- depictions of bullying
(Comparison of White vs Indian illustration) Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Illus. Ellen Forney. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007.