Junior Spirit, the high school student in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tries to get the most out of life even if it means walking alone between the white and Indian worlds. Junior begins high school on the rez. He is excited to learn, an eager student. When he opens his math book he discovers that it belonged to his mother, he ‘was staring at a geometry book that was at least thirty years older’ (31) than he was. The flood of emotions he felt results in him throwing the book and hitting his teacher in the face. ‘That old, old, old, decrepit geometry book hit my heart with the force of a nuclear bomb. My hopes and dreams floated up in a mushroom cloud.’(31) Instead of being upset with him Junior’s teacher ends up confessing about how badly he and others have treated native kids and how he was ‘supposed to kill the Indian to save the child…make you give up being Indian.’(35) He tells him everyone, including the members of his own community, have failed him. He quietly tells him that he must leave the rez since all they are being taught on the rez is how to give up. ‘If you stay on this rez…they’re going to kill you. I’m going to kill you. We’re all going to kill you. You can’t fight us forever.’(43)
Junior leaves the rez to attend school in Reardan. Living on the rez and travelling to town to attend school leaves him feeling like a stranger, “half Indian in one place and half white in the other,” (118) but he begins dating the most popular girl in school, joins the basketball team and makes some new friends. During his freshman year he loses his grandmother, his dad`s best friend Eugene and his sister all tragically in alcohol related deaths. After the death of Eugene he is overcome with grief and tries to understand why his family has so much to grieve about. (172) He realizes that “Indians have LOST EVERYTHING”(173) – land, languages, songs and dances and concludes “we only know how to lose and be lost.” He misses many days of school and upon his return is greeted by a teacher whose insensitive comments cause his classmates to leave the class to show their disapproval of her actions. The show of support breaks down racial barriers for Junior allowing him to conclude the world is not broken down by black and white or Indian and white but rather by “the people who are assholes and the people who are not.(176) Junior learns many things are not black and white and not always as they appear on the surface. He realizes that his dad may be a drunk but also that he never misses any of his school activities while some of the white kids’ fathers never come in to the school. After originally seeing the Wellpinit team as Goliath he realizes after defeating them that his team was in fact Goliath. He cries in shame because he knows of their hardships and that many won`t be able to overcome them and he cries because he has “broken his best friends heart.”(196)
Rowdy visits Junior to tell him that he has been doing some reading about old-time time Indians. He explains to Junior that he always thought he would leave the rez and it was ok because Junior was just being nomadic like an “old-time” Indian. Junior starts to cry, perhaps because of the relief it brings to have his leaving explained this way. This knowledge allows them both to believe that it was ok to leave the rez in search of what you need to survive because that’s what Indians did before they were put on reservations.