This week’s staff pick just so happens to be the most challenged book of 2014. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is the story of 14-year-old Junior, a Spokane Indian living on a Washington reservation. Soon after starting high school on the rez, encouraged by his teachers, Junior transfers to the all-white high school 22 miles away. Based on Alexie’s own experiences, readers will love this funny, bittersweet, painfully honest look at coming of age.
“Nerdy, fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington state. During his first day at high school, Arnold discovers that his geometry textbook is so old that his mother used it in school. In anger, he throws the book at his teacher and is suspended. Recognizing Arnold’s potential, his teacher suggests that Arnold transfer to a school off the reservation. There Arnold attempts to bridge Indian and white cultures-sometimes successfully and sometimes not-while at home, he faces the controversy of leaving the reservation and his own culture. The tension reaches a peak when Arnold returns to his former school for a basketball game as the star player on his new school’s team. Alexie’s portrayal of reservation life, with the help of a great lineup of supporting characters, is realistic and fantastical and funny and tragic-all at the same time. The story is engaging, but readers will also gain insight into American Indian culture and politics as well as a sense for human nature and the complexities of living in a diverse society. Cartoonist Forney’s drawings, appearing throughout the book, enhance the story and could nearly stand alone. It is clear that she and Alexie worked closely together on this project. Recreational readers, especially boys, will enjoy this book, but teachers will also find it filled with lots of material to rouse a good classroom discussion. This first young adult novel by the acclaimed Indian writer whose adult fiction is used in many high school classrooms is based on Alexie’s own memoir.” –Jenny Ingram, VOYA Reviews