Arnold "Junior" Spirit, the 15-year-old, "zitty and lonely," budding cartoonist / hero of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is one big knot of contrasts. Sometimes he's "too Indian," sometimes he's "not Indian enough." Today, he's a warrior; yesterday, he cried in public. Only recently, certain members of his family were alive. Now, they're gone.
When Arnold enrolls himself in a new school off the reservation – a school full of white kids where he's the only Indian, not counting the school mascot – he finds acceptance where he expected a battle. Little did he know that his real challenge was still waiting for him back at home: convincing his entire tribe that he knows what he's doing with his life.
This is Alexie's first Young Adult novel, and it has his trademark ability to break your heart while you fall down laughing. Parents, you might want to use your judgment on this one: There's some cursing and bathroom humor (uh … of the girl-crazy, teenage boy kind, if you get my drift). However, the message of this book – the redemptive power of friendships and finding courage under fire – makes it an instant YA classic for me. (A disclaimer: I love everything Sherman Alexie writes. He could scrawl an X in the dirt with a stick, and I'd be writing about his mastery of the art of simplicity.) I'm putting this one on my shelf next to Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret, The Chocolate War, and Catcher in the Rye.