The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. Print.
Summary: This novel, based on some of the author's own life experiences, tells the story of Junior. Junior was born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation, where his future was already set out for him, at least if he did not do something about it. Instead, he decides to take things into his own hands and determine his own future. He leaves the rough school on the Indian rez in order to attend an all-white school in a rural area where the mascot is the only other Indian around. Junior tells his own story through wit and illustrations (by Ellen Forney), as a budding cartoonist, and he quickly teachers readers that things don't always have to be just black and white.
Diversity is a topic that is often talked about at great length these days when it comes to young adult literature, and this novel is a wonderful example of how to add positive diversity into a library collection. Junior is a relateable protagonist for all young adults, no matter their cultural or ethnic background. He must deal with trying to be accepted in a new environment, as well as having old friends and family turn his back on him for attempting to better his life. This is no easy feat for a high school student, but there are many teenagers who go through similar, difficult situations and will relate to Junior's issues.
While this novel could have easily taken a dark and depressing turn and tone, Alexie did a very good job of not making this the case. While there are tough situations and difficult subject matter, much of the novel is handled with wit and a sense of humor. Our main character is uplifting and positive, which is a wonderful example for young adults, especially teenage boys, to see in a protagonist. The light spirit of this book made it an easy read, and I believe it is one that students will be able to stick with and finish, even if they are not typically a reader.
Along with the wonderful text and plot line, the illustrations add a wonderful, whimsical aspect to the book. Teenagers still love having pictures in their books (even adults still love to see this, in my opinion), and the cartoons contained in the novel are great fun. They add detail and emotion to the novel that we do not get completely from the text. Overall, Alexie did a wonderful job of writing a strong, enjoyable piece that has a universal theme.
One of the greatest aspects of this novel are the cartoon illustrations that go along with the text, meant to look like the drawings of the protagonist. This is an element that will keep a lot of young adults reading the novel, and so it seems like a great focus point for an activity. In a writing class, students could create their own protagonist, and as they continue writing their story, they must add in their own cartoon illustrations to add to the text. This will allow students to add description not only through their writing, but also in an artistic manner.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang - this is another story of a young boy who moves to a new neighborhood where everyone is very different than he is, and he must learn how to adjust to the new environment. An added bonus is the fact that it is a graphic novel, which many young adults really enjoy.
Short Stories by Gary Soto - Gary Soto is a wonderful author for young adults, and most of his stories are based off of events in his own life, which relates back to what Alexie did in his novel. Soto's characters also often deal with acceptance and fitting in.
Publisher's Weekly. An Absolutely Great Novel by Sherman Alexie, 2007. Web. 5 July 2016. Retrieved from http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=158