The Book That Made Me: Philip Reeve 16/10/19
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
Publisher: Andersen Press
Arnold Spirit Jr (known as Junior) is a 14-year-old Native American living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Born with too much cerebro-spinal fluid in his skull, he is philosophical in his descriptions of both the physical impact (which include a larger than average head and feet, extra teeth and a speech impediment) and the objectionable treatment he receives (which includes routine verbal and physical abuse by his peers).
The book follows him as he chooses to leave the familiarity and comparative security of the rez in favour of a far more hostile setting - an all-white school. It’s a decision which he makes in an effort to capitalise on his assets of intelligence and an innate sense of hope, but it’s one which his best friend on the rez sees as an act of pure treachery. To describe Arnold’s subsequent ‘journey of self-discovery’ and his influence on the lives of those he meets along the way risk making this all sound very clichéd, however this is a book which is by no means ordinary.
It’s a highly unusual book on many levels. From a disability point of view, Hydrocephalus has rarely if ever appeared in a children’s book and the depiction of this protagonist with the condition is both fully-dimensional and thought-provoking - and never sentimental. It is a book not without controversy (readers can expect an unusually direct and at times rather surprising approach to subjects like masturbation, the use of profane and homophobic language, poverty, abuse, senseless violence and death to name but a few.) It is also both moving and memorable and its strong autobiographical influences make it all the more so.
The diary entries are illustrated with a series of lively and engaging cartoon-style pictures (Junior is himself a budding artist) which further enhance the book's humour and its accessibility.