The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,' I said. 'By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, stuck in a life that has no forward momentum. You are born here, you live here, and you die here, poor as dirt and often mired in a despair that his family and community try to escape in dangerous and addictive ways. After becoming enraged that the textbook he was handed in class was the same one his mother used as a child, he is entreated by his teacher (the target of Junior's book-flinging anger who is saturated with regret) to get out. Junior takes his destiny into his own hands and enrolls in elite school miles away from the reservation, often hitchhiking back and forth. Despite his disadvantages, he begins to thrive, but at what cost? His reservation sees him as a traitor. How can he reconcile his heritage with his dreams?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is witty, hopeful and heartbreaking. Junior's voice is so authentic, a teenage boy with an awareness of his community through the lens of his own wants and desires. Often times he is selfish and shallow, but that's being human for you. He begins as one thing, a weakling with an oddly shaped body due to a birth defect to a significant presence at his new school. He is allowed to blossom, rather then stunting and rotting in a place with no space to grow. The tragedy is that those he has left behind remain in this cycle of despair that has lasted generations. Is it betraying his heritage to abandon his community? Is it self preservation? Junior wrestles with these questions as the story continues, through tragedy, pain and bittersweet victory.