23 July 2015
Book Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Told from the first-person perspective of Junior, cartoonist/Indian/traitor, the book is hilarious, poignant, and creative. It follows Junior as he leaves the reservation in hopes of a better education in a nearby community. Some days he walks miles and miles to and from school, a hardship only emphasized by those on the reservation seeing Junior as a traitor to his people and those in his new school seeing him as nothing more than a scrawny, loser Indian from the rez.
A remarkably emotional book, the story reveals the sad truths of many Native Americans still living on the reservations without being overly sensational or preachy. Never did I feel like an event or description was included merely to shock or evoke emotion. Everything, even the worst bits, felt very real.
My favorite part of the book is the illustrations by Ellen Forney. The drawings are Junior's cartoons which perfectly illustrate the concepts he discusses. One of my favorite images shows the distinctions Junior is making between the white kids in his new school and his Indian friends back on the rez:
This image struck me as being particularly powerful and a wonderful illustration of the book's form: it is simple, stark and notably complex and thought-provoking.
Like the artwork, the language is very straightforward, no flowery pontifications here, just simple truths. Junior's thoughts on poverty really struck me: “Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” The book is full of quotes like this, simple and important.
If you haven't read this yet - and I'm sure you have - do so as soon as possible. It is quick, powerful, fun, and maddening.