Arnold Spirit Jr. has water on the brain. Born hydrocephalic, the Spokane Indian underwent surgery at six months. Because of his brain damage, he has 10 more teeth than most people, is nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other and suffers from migraines and seizures. He also stutters, lisps and has huge hands and feet. In fact, Junior has many physical irregularities, but there's nothing he struggles with more than sorting out the connection to his heritage.

Sherman Alexie's first novel for young adults is funny, self-deprecating and serious all at once. Closely based on Alexie's own experiences on the reservation, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian follows the 14-year-old narrator as he evades peer persecution and his family's poverty by transferring to an all-white school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Junior is scorned by those he leaves behind on the reservation, and his best friend Rowdy wants nothing to do with him. The only time they meet during their first year of high school is on the basketball court.

Junior escapes his troubles by drawing quirky cartoons (depicted in illustrations by graphic artist Ellen Forney), but he has more going for him than he knows. He becomes a star on his new school's varsity basketball team, many of his fellow classmates come to respect him, the hottest girl in school befriends him and even nerdy Gordy can admit that Junior is smarter than 99 percent of the high school. Junior's lack of confidence in his choices, however, causes him to berate himself during his 22-mile walk home from school. He feels displaced: Does he belong in the snobby, wealthy white culture or among the inebriated, impoverished Indians of the reservation? With his perceptive narrator, Alexie deftly taps into the human desire to stand out while fitting in.

 

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