The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, art by Ellen Forney.
Junior is a Native American who has always been the butt of many jokes. He has only survived his many fights thanks to his best friend, Rowdy, who is a huge athletic kid. Now Junior has decided to leave the reservation and head into a neighboring town to attend school. He will be the only Indian in his classes. Junior decides to go ahead with his plans though it means people on the reservation consider him a traitor, especially Rowdy. Junior works through his nervousness, self-doubt and many obstacles through art. He draws cartoons and comics that encapsulate what is happening to him. Art appears throughout the book, often capturing what words could not.
Let me just say that I don’t think that any words I place together will ever convey the power of this novel. The straight-forward honesty about Indian issues like alcoholism will leave readers breathless. The raw truth of Junior’s character is not only compelling but mesmerizing. Junior’s fights and battles become the reader’s in a very immediate way. His insights into racism, pain and being Indian offer readers a window into a life we would love to deny but are unable to. There is such a truth here that it would be impossible to hear without Junior there as a conduit.
The writing is profound and deep with sudden currents that sweep into unexpected places. It is a book that is never dull, but doesn’t read like a thriller or action movie. Rather it is a quick-witted study of one teen who is not going to give in and just disappear into the reservation. With the addition of the cartoons in the novel, readers are drawn deeper into the story and into Junior as a character.
This is my pick of the year for the Printz Award. Due to its power, rawness and energy that is bound to draw in many different types of reader. It is a true window into a person’s life which is what reading is all about. It is a book that will stay with me for some time and I will continue to wonder how that much intensity can be held in such a slim volume for teens. A masterpiece.