Written by: Sherman Alexie
Illustrated by: Ellen Forney
Publication Info: 2007, Little, Brown, and Company
One Line: Junior, a 14-year-old living on the Spokane Indian Reservation, tells the tale of his first year at the neighboring all-white non-reservation school of Reardan.
Brief Summary: Junior, as he’s called on the Spokane Indian Reservation, has always been different. He was born with hydrocephalus, or excess fluid on the brain – he was supposed to die, but didn’t. He did have seizures and speech problems and need funny glasses, though, which made him a target on the reservation. He was also smart and wanted an education, something not important to his best friend, Rowdy. As a freshman at the reservation, Junior gets upset about the lack of quality materials and decides he wants to transfer to the all-white school nearby called Reardan. His parents allow it, but it is a struggle for everyone. His best friend Rowdy stops speaking to him, the reservation considers him a traitor, and he struggles to fit in and deal with abuse based on
Thoughts: This book is at times humorous, at times heartbreaking (well, often heartbreaking), but always engaging, and it always seems real. Junior is a wonderfully complex character with a great self-deprecating voice, who lends humor to even the darkest situations. He is struggling with his identity, wondering if having success in life means he is betraying the tribe, and wondering how he can still be an Indian outside of the reservation. Alexie takes on the stereotypes of the Indian population, declaring some of them, like excessive alcohol abuse, to be true. That Junior still makes it through his year with three devastating and important deaths in his life is a testament to his strength as a character. The story is told in first person, and somehow the tone remains hopeful, even at its bleakest moments. The character is always able to pull himself up out of the muck, an important message to those struggling to better their lives. He has been willing to take a chance to try to get an education and improve himself, and the theme that it is important to believe in yourself, and what it means when others believe in you (and simply say “you can do it”) is seen throughout the book. Junior is as surprised by other people as they are by him – he did not expect his white school to embrace him as thoroughly as it did, pointing out that we all have our biases to get rid of. The cartoons add another level of insight, as they almost seem to be the even more personal thoughts that Junior does not say aloud (although he does not hold much back). This book deserves all of its accolades, as it shows that deep down, we are all humans, searching for acceptance and meaning.
Author Information: From www.fallsapart.com: “Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction, a PEN/Hemingway Citation for Best First Fiction, and the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, Sherman Alexie is a poet, short story writer, novelist, and performer.
He has published 24 books including What I've Stolen, What I've Earned, poetry, from Hanging Loose Press; Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, from Grove Press; and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a novel from Little, Brown Books for Children.
He has also recently published the 20th Anniversary edition of his classic book of stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
Smoke Signals, the movie he wrote and co-produced, won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.
A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Alexie has been an urban Indian since 1994 and lives in Seattle with his family.”