The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Alexie’s first foray into the young adult genre, and it took him only one book to master the form … The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may be his best work yet. Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting after school for a ride home.
Maybe it's the combination of drawings, pithy turns of phrase, candour, tragedy, despair and hope that makes this more than an entertaining read, more than an engaging story about a North American Indian kid who makes it out of a poor, dead-end background without losing his connection with who he is and where he's from … Opening this book is like meeting a friend you'd never make in your actual life and being given a piece of his world, inner and outer. It's humane, authentic and, most of all, it speaks.
Most of the plot here is not so much a mystery as it is a lively surprise. Junior, or Arnold, is a nerdy but sympathetic kid who weeps at the drop of a hat, vomits from fear and nervousness, and draws whimsical cartoons to illustrate his story created for the book by Seattle artist Ellen Forney. This is a story about surviving small town schools, which any young adult reader can benefit from.
The high-school misfit is a familiar young-adult-story template, but Alexie makes it fresh because this particular misfit is one who doesn't often appear in print. As a poor Native American, Arnold's issues are different. He's called ‘Chief’ and ‘Squaw Boy’ (by the kids at school) and Apple (by fellow Indians on the rez, who say he's red on the outside and white on the inside) … These sorts of tragedies are far removed from the lives of his peers at school, but they affect Arnold in a way that isn't defined in black and white, or as Indian versus non-Indian. As Arnold learns, the world isn't divided by color but by actions.
[Arnold] weathers the typical teenage indignations and triumphs like a champ but soon faces far more trying ordeals as his home life begins to crumble and decay amidst the suffocating mire of alcoholism on the reservation. Alexie’s humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn’t pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt.
Alexie nimbly blends sharp wit with unapologetic emotion in his first foray into young-adult literature … The reservation’s poverty and desolate alcoholism offer early mortality and broken dreams, but Junior’s knowledge that he must leave is rooted in love and respect for his family and the Spokane tribe … Junior’s keen cartoons sprinkle the pages as his fluid narration deftly mingles raw feeling with funny, sardonic insight.