Review: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie

Oh this book. Oh it hurt my heart. All the time I was reading it and thinking how it reminded me of an illustrated, more grown-up version of There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, which I read when I was a little kid. I still tear up slightly when I read There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom. Don’t judge. Louis Sachar can’t tug on my heartstrings?

Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, where he regularly gets beaten up because he is a weird kid. He has a stutter and a large head and brain damage from being born hydrocephalic, and moreover he’s a smart kid who is interested in school. If it weren’t for his best friend Rusty, the toughest kid on the reservation, he would be completely alone (as, be it said, would Rusty). Until one day he gets the opportunity to go to the white kids’ school, away from the reservation.

Now, I read this book a while ago and haven’t really been able to decide what to say about it. I liked it. It tugged, as I said, at my heartstrings. For sure. But it didn’t make me want to dash out and acquire the rest of Alexie’s oeuvre. There was something a bit slapdash about it, like Alexie couldn’t decide where the heart of the story should be. This isn’t to say it failed at being affecting, because it really didn’t. It just didn’t feel like it was all of a piece. It felt like a group of short stories pulled apart and the pieces distributed at intervals throughout a book. I wanted it to feel like a complete story.

That said, the book was vivid in its depiction of reservation life, and it was well-written and felt true. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a young teenager. Indeed, I did recommend it to my friend who tutors a young teenager. (But I recommended Markus Zusak more.)

Lots of people have read this and been more eloquent than I have been. Here they are.

  • I really must read this at some point. If memory serves me the library has it, I just haven’t got around to it yet. Thanks for the reminder!

    • I’ll look forward to seeing what you think of it!

  • I LOVED LOVED LOVED this, especially because it was autobiographical. Also, in spite of the many dark aspects to this book, it is WAY WAY lighter than the rest of his oeuvre!

    • I did love that it was autobiographical. I felt sad for Sherman Alexie. 🙁 The darkness was fine, but the disjointedness kind of bugged me.

  • I’d read short stories of his before I read this one, and I already counted him as a favourite author of mine, but I particularly loved this one. For me it didn’t feel like it was a group of short stories, but I also read it over the course of, oh, maybe a day, which always encourages that sense of sinking into a story. And I’ve yet to read Markus Zusak and I know I must must must.

    • Oh please read Markus Zusak at your earliest convenience! He’s so great. I cry every time I read any one of his books, including the one about, like, boxing. Markus Zusak is just the BEST.

  • Aww, I forgot about There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom! I really loved The Absolutely True Diary, which I think is at least partly to the fact that Alexie himself read the audiobook I listened to. His way of reading fit Junior perfectly. Plus, I liked that it was at least partially autobiographical. I didn’t run right out and read the rest of Alexie’s stuff either, but I’ve listened to one other one (Flight), which I also found quite powerful. (Also Markus Zusak is awesome!)

    • He read the audiobook himself? That’s so cool! I mean, it’s cool because he did it well — I always feel terribly awkward for authors who insist on reading their own audiobooks and are not good readers-out-loud. Neil Gaiman is another one who does that very, very well.

  • I found the slapdash nature of it realistic for a teenage boy’s diary—Alexie here is trying to imitate life, and life isn’t as coherent as fiction. Now, whether or not that works for the piece is a different matter entirely.

    • That’s a good point, Clare. I will have to think about that and see if it changes how I feel about the book as a whole.

  • I love the way you always remind of childhood books that I haven’t thought of in years…
    I’ve heard good things about this book but am not quite convinced that it’s a book I would find satisfying. Though I think I might get it for my younger sister and see what she thinks about it.

    • I do? That’s such a good compliment! I love to remind people of childhood books! Because I read so many awesome books in my childhood.

  • My mentor teaches this one in her adolescent lit classes. Haven’t read it yet myself because I’m resistant for some weird reason. Did read an essay of his recently that I liked, so maybe I’ll move it up in the TBR.

    • What was the essay? I love a good essay!

  • I’ve grown to like this book the more I read it. I’ve grown even fonder of it when a classmate told me her husband (who is Native American) read the book and said it was a spot on description of reservation life.

    • I’ve heard the same, in every review I’ve read of this book. So that’s good (but sad).

  • I was one who loved this one, but I must admit that I haven’t read anything else by him yet.

    • If you do, I’d be curious to know what you think. I don’t really know where to go from here.

  • So many people really love this book, and I have it, but haven’t started with it yet. It sounds so sad though! I can’t handle kids that are mean to others for being different, so that already hurts my heart! I will eventually read it, but I know I am going to have to be in the right frame of mind for it or it will just go over like a lead balloon. I liked your take on the book because I always know I an going to get a straight and unbiased opinion with you.

    • Actually, to be honest, kids being mean to each other because they are different is far from the saddest thing about this book. There isn’t nearly as much of that as I thought there was going to be. There was a lot of alcoholism though, and that was quite sad.

  • O, this one hurt my heart as well, but made up for it with the laughs.

    Personally, I love Alexie’s work and did rush to check out more of his books after reading Part-Time Indian.

    I am sorry you didn’t love it though.

    • What else did you love by him? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • slapdash is a good description, but a part of the charm, don’t you think?

    • Yes, a bit, I suppose.

  • I haven’t read this, but I think most bloggers loved it. It is nice to see someone not LOVING it, but then.. you did make me curious with your statement about Alexie not knowing where the heart of the story was. So, I still want to read it. Stories tugging at heartstrings are a great selling point for me 🙂

  • I remember There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom! But I don’t remember in any way what it was about. Much like Sideways Stories from Wayside School. And My Teacher is an Alien. So many quality titles were thought up in the early 90s.

    I loved this book, and I think you’re right- there was a lot of tugging involved. I didn’t come out of it feeling that it was slapdash, but maybe that’s because I was severely distracted by said tuggings.

  • The fact that you mentioned There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom makes me love you more, Jenny! 🙂 I loved The Absolutely True Diary and I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

  • Nice review, Jenny! I haven’t read any of Sherman Alexie’s books till now. I want to start with this one.