Arnold Spirit Jr. lives on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington and experiences and/or witnesses many of the “typical” (one could say stereotypical) things one would expect from his situation: poverty, rampant alcoholism, missed opportunities. So when he decides to attend the “white” school off the reservation, it is definitely a learning experience. His best friend hates him for his decision to “desert” him; the more privileged white kids want nothing to do with him.
Spending his days as the Indian kid at a white school and the “white person” among the other Indians makes Junior feel split in half, not one or the other, not belonging to either place. But eventually he finds ways to make friends at the school, and he begins to see the good in the “other” even as he learns to better appreciate the good on the reservation.
The strength of this book is that it gives a “true” look at life on an Indian reservation through the eyes of an insider, rather than a romanticized outsider’s view. It takes a serious but empathetic look at the real problems that plague Native Americans on reservations and how difficult it has been for many to escape them. Plus, the point of view is that of a teen boy, and it’s quite realistic. It’s all done with humor and poignancy. I can see why The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has become required reading for many students: it is a rare point of view that is instructive and easy to read at the same time. Unfortunately, because of the teen-boy angle, it’s got a lot of vulgarity and crudeness.
Rated: High, (at least for young readers) for one use of strong language, frequent use of moderate language, and crude sexual references. The main character and some of his fellow teen boys talk about masturbation and sex and it’s just vulgar, no two ways about it. Body parts are mentioned by their proper anatomical names and by crude nicknames. There are at least four or five of these references that are particularly distasteful and “colorfully” detailed.