The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a wild and exuberant tale, and Arnold Spirit, Jr., our affable narrator, is a laugh riot. The writing is fun and casual, and even includes illustrations. Arnold cracks jokes at a breakneck pace, but the book itself can be unbelievably grim at times. Arnold lives in poverty, gets beaten up repeatedly, and is eventually shunned by his entire reservation.
Plus, there's the death thing. Over the course of the novel, he loses his sister in a trailer fire, his grandmother gets hit by a drunk driver, and his father's best friend is shot in a 7-11 parking lot. Having attended 42 funerals by age fourteen (27.4), Arnold has experienced more pain and grief than many people experience in an entire lifetime. Brutal, right?
Author Sherman Alexie is known for writing what he calls "reservation realism," which means that Alexie does not shy away from depicting the harsh and sometimes bleak realities of reservation life. When it comes to poverty, alcoholism, abuse, and death, there really is no sugar coating going on in this book.
But though the intensity of the subject matter may be difficult for the tenderhearted, the book is never overly pessimistic. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian remains a powerfully uplifting read because, despite all of the challenges Arnold faces, there always remains a palpable sense of joy, a spirit of hope, and an ultimately positive message that matches lows with highs. Arnold's excitement, curiosity, humor, and intelligence is inspiring, and his commitment to leaving the reservation and finding a better life for himself offers a sense of hope to others who may also be facing difficulties beyond their control.