The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie was first published in 2007 and won the National Book Award for Young Peoples Literature the same year. This story is a semi-autobiographical account about a young, aspiring cartoonist who makes the difficult decision to attend high school outside of the Spokane Indian Reservation. This decision draws much criticism from those on the reservation, and turns his best friend into his worst enemy.
I hate to say that Native American communities gain very little recognition today, but I may just be saying this simply because there are no reservations near my geographical region and there are very few, if any, members of this population in my area. I must admit my own ignorance when I first thought this book was published a few decades earlier than it was, but technically the story is based on events from many years ago so perhaps that is why I had this impression. Regardless, I am surprised at how recent this book has been published (yes is was over a decade ago, but I am getting old now so what is time really?).
One reason I enjoyed this book as much as I did was because of my lack of exposure. I have had little opportunity to learn from this extremely underrepresented community. This book is a surprising insight into this community with all of the economical hardships and difficult cultural dynamics.
Though this book does take place during our protagonist’s initial high school years, I would not recommend this book to anyone under the age of fifteen (or anyone whose maturity is around that age). I say this because there are some topics that, though part of life, can be difficult to read. The substance abuse, primarily alcohol, and how it impacts this community is alarming. I know this has become somewhat of a stereotype, but this book explores a few of the reasons why many turn to drinking. It is also alarming how common it is for young Native Americans to attend funerals. I hope this may be more fictionalized than it is in reality, but it feels as though it is just a hope.
This book is a great insight into a community many of us likely have little or no knowledge outside of a brief mention in history books. This story gives us a glimpse into their current livelihood, a group of people seemingly caught between holding onto their heritage and complete assimilation. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a quick, funny, heartbreaking, and hopeful read that I believe you should give a chance.