The high school I work at has a really stellar SSR program (silent, sustained reading – for those of you who haven’t been been in high school lately) and I would argue it’s one of the most powerful things we do for our students – exposing them to a wide variety of literature and then letting them choose what excites, interests, or amuses them. Through some great summer used book sales, my own penchant for reading, and an amazing parent who donated bags and bags of books, I have – not to brag or anything – one of the best SSR shelves on campus. And it’s a well known fact among teachers that though stealing books is bad (that SSR shelf cost me hundreds of dollars!), it is usually only the best books that get stolen… and usually, by a kid who really needs them. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has not only been stolen from my shelf. Its replacement was also stolen, and I have known many a high school football playing boy to forcefully encourage his friend to read faster so that he could check the book out next. It is that good.
Though it is written for young adults, this novel is a must-read for just about everyone. The main character is Junior, a nerdy Native American high school student who lives on a reservation. Through his diary (complete with doodles) he shares his trials and tribulations, as well as monumental successes, as he begins at a new high school, 18 miles from his reservation and everything he knows. It is such a powerful story for young people because it perfectly captures the every day troubles of high school (bad skin, unrequited love, bullies, and teachers who just don’t get it) as well as the big problems that few of us face, but could learn a lot from (living in poverty, dealing with racial stereotypes, death(s) of close family members, and living in a community that struggles with substance abuse and has more or less given up on improving their life). Junior is such a real character – he remains hopeful and works hard to get a better life for himself, yet, like a real human, he gets angry when he deals with things that no 14 year old should have to.
This was the first book I read in a very long time that I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to finish, because I absolutely could not put it down. By the end of it, I was positively weeping. I truly believe that having read it has made me a better person, and even more so a better, more understanding teacher. I cannot recommend it highly enough – if you work with youth, or if you know a young person, this should be on your list! It is of high interest for students of both genders in my classes (seriously… despite how powerful the novel is, it’s also really really funny) and is written in a way that is engaging for nearly all levels, but accessible to some of the lowest. I give this book 5 stars – go and buy it for someone you love immediately! ★★★★★