I loved The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and found the balance of humor and pathos just right. Maybe it takes the voice of a young narrator to really convey the hilarity and heartache of childhood, or maybe it’s the more direct relationship to Alexie’s personal biography, but it moved me in a way that neither Smoke Signals nor The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven quite did. Don’t get me wrong, I also loved Smoke Signals, but mood is different, partly because the characters there are older when they make it off the rez. I also found it difficult to get into The Lone Ranger and Tonto…; I’ll go back to it again and make a better effort.
What more can I say about the book? I would say that Sherman Alexie is the most well-known contemporary Native American author around, and Part-Time Indian offers a direct view into his beginnings. While many of the experiences Alexie relates are particular to growing up on a reservation in the Pacific Northwest, the special weightiness and attendant costliness of adolescent choices is something that resonates across class and cultural lines.
At a key point in the story, the narrator says, I used to think the world was broken into many tribes. By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not. I think it’s also fair to say that there are people who had the kind of childhood related in Part-Time Indian, and there are people who did not. For those who did, the book is also a beautifully written tribute to the determination of those younger selves who brought us to adulthood.