The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) Character Analysis

The fourteen-year-old narrator and protagonist of the novel. Junior is frequently bullied because of his “weird” physical attributes, the result of the hydrocephalus he was born with. Though he is often lonely and thinks of himself as weak, invisible, and unable to fight back physically, other characters recognize him as a “warrior,” a smart, brave, and highly committed person who has been “fighting since [he was] born” to keep his hope despite the oppressive, depressing atmosphere of the reservation. Junior keeps up his hope by drawing cartoons, which to him represent both a chance to leave the reservation and a potential for universal understanding. He also loves playing basketball, discovering he has unexpected talent when he joins the Reardan team and receives the support of his coach and teammates. As his cartoons and his optimism would suggest, Junior’s narrative voice is funny, upbeat, and frank, if a little prone to a teenager’s extreme statements. He is good at seeing and articulating the ridiculous elements of tragic and enraging situations, a trait that allows him to tell his story without sentimentality or melodrama while increasing the impact of sad facts.

Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) Quotes in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian quotes below are all either spoken by Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) or refer to Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity, Belonging, and Coming-of-Age Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Little, Brown and Company edition of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian published in 2009.
Chapter 1 Quotes

My brain was drowning in grease.
But that makes the whole thing sound weirdo and funny, like my brain was a giant French fry, so it seems more serious and poetic and accurate to say, “I was born with water on the brain.”

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Junior introduces himself to readers as someone who is up against many obstacles to success. Before even touching on race and poverty, he lets us know that he has a birth defect that affected his brain. However, his command of language and his humor let us know that this is something he seems to have mostly overcome, despite its lingering effects on his appearance.

From this opening passage we know that Junior is someone who considers an important characteristic of himself that he is different from others – weird, even – and also that he understands himself to be someone who is able to overcome hardship, even against great odds. From this passage we also learn that Junior has a sense of humor, even in the face of difficulty, and he's a careful observer of the world. It makes sense that Junior is a good student and a dedicated cartoonist, because his precision with words shows that he is someone who wants to communicate his experiences to others. 

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I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

This poetic metaphor that Junior chooses to represent the world illustrates a lot about his personality. First of all, Junior clearly sees the world as a place of hardship and even despair, since he calls it a place of "broken dams and floods." We get the sense that Junior has been through a lot, particularly for how young he is, and that he has been deeply affected by living in an environment full of hopelessness and suffering.

However, Junior has developed a strategy for keeping himself from being consumed by his environment: making cartoons. When he compares his cartoons to lifeboats, he indicates that they have the potential to save him from the despair around him, and even from the fates of his family and peers. He says that his cartoons could get him off the rez by making him famous, but it's clear that they also save him in more everyday ways by giving him an outlet for his emotions and a source of hope. 

Chapter 2 Quotes

My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people.
Adam and Eve covered their privates with fig leaves; the first Indians covered their privates with their tiny hands.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the central themes of the novel is the cyclical nature of poverty and how difficult it is to escape from it. Here, Junior is explaining that it's not his parents' fault that their family is poor; they didn't make stupid decisions about money, they just never had any to begin with. Junior ties this poverty in with race, too. As Indians, his family has, for generations, not had the same opportunities as white families, and that has meant that nobody could escape from poverty and thereby create better opportunities for future generations.

Junior tends to make jokes about the things that are most painful to him, so he quips that even as far back as Adam and Eve there were class disparities, since Adam and Eve had fig leaves to cover their privates and the Indians only had their hands. From this passage, we get a sense of the extent of the hopelessness on the rez. If a family has been stuck in poverty for that many generations, then there is both very little opportunity to escape and, therefore, very little reason for anyone to hope for a better life. 

It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Something that Junior wants readers to understand is that poverty is not only cyclical, but it is inseparable from race. Together, racism and poverty form a vicious knot that deflates self-esteem and makes it difficult to see a way towards a better life. Junior illustrates this by walking readers through the thoughts he has when he is feeling bad about himself. We see that he conflates poverty with being Indian and being stupid and ugly.

This is a telling set of thoughts because it illuminates some of the less concrete ways (not related directly to his housing or access to medicine, for instance) that being an Indian living in poverty affects Junior. For example, Junior's thought that Indians are ugly shows the ways in which the standards of beauty centered on whiteness, which are ubiquitous in the American media, harm minorities. Junior doesn't seem to have an image in his mind of Indian beauty – he thinks of white people as being the ones who are attractive, and because of that he cannot imagine himself as being anything but ugly. This self-deprecation feeds into his despair about the cycle of poverty his family is caught in, because, just as he doesn't have an image of Indian beauty, he doesn't have many role models of Indians who aren't poor. Here, racism and poverty are presented as psychological obstacles in addition to being material ones. The combination makes it hard to imagine and work towards a better life.

Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, Junior attempts to dispel what he sees as pervasive myths about being poor. Part of the mythology of the American dream is the notion that anyone, with sufficient hard work, can work their way out of poverty, and that lessons learned through living with poverty (hard work, perseverance) will lead to success later on. Junior clearly does not believe this, and thinks that such beliefs are both ridiculous and dangerous in that they perpetuate the idea that poverty is anything other than an affliction.

Instead, Junior gives a frank assessment of the world around him, saying that he only sees poverty teaching people to be poor. By this, Junior refers to the fact that poverty prevents social mobility rather than bolsters it (as the American dream would have you believe). Poor people are cut off from the resources that foster social mobility (like education, healthcare, loans, etc.) and often lack role models and mentors who themselves got out of poverty. This is apparent in Junior's community; people don't seem to have realistic ideas about how to get out of poverty, and not many young people are being steered towards achievable goals that might better their lives. 

Chapter 3 Quotes

“It’s not like anybody’s going to notice if you go away,” he said. “So you might as well gut it out.”

Related Characters: Rowdy (speaker), Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a moment that encapsulates the dynamic of Rowdy and Junior's friendship. Junior is remembering when his beloved dog died and his grief led him to want to go away from everyone. Rowdy didn't comfort Junior or tell him it would be okay; he gave him a tough-love response that acknowledged that Junior leaving wouldn't accomplish anything and nobody would notice so it made sense for him to just stay where he was.

Rowdy's advice is helpful in that it keeps Junior from doing anything rash and regrettable, and it also shows that the two know each other very well and care for each other. This also points to the fact that Rowdy seems to have internalized the tough environment of the rez more than Junior. Rowdy can be mean and he's opposed to any dreams about the future because they seem, to him, unrealistic (and, therefore, indulging in such dreams would make you vulnerable to them inevitably not coming true). Junior, on the other hand, is a more openly compassionate friend, and he's prone to more eccentric dreams and impulses, like escaping the rez. 

Chapter 4 Quotes

After high school, my sister just froze. Didn’t go to college, didn’t get a job. Didn’t do anything. Kind of sad, I guess.
But she is also beautiful and strong and funny. She is the prettiest and strongest and funniest person who ever spent twenty-three hours a day alone in a basement.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Mary Runs Away
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

For Junior, Mary is a sort of cautionary tale for the future. Junior looks up to Mary and believes that she is smart and capable enough to do something important with her life. However, Mary "froze" after high school and moved into their parents' basement, refusing to pursue her dreams. This underscores Junior's sense that the Indians living in poverty have few ways to make a better life. He sees his sister as having the personal qualities (smart, pretty, strong, funny) that might allow her to escape the reservation, but she doesn't.

Since he can't chalk this "failure" up to Mary's personal failings, Junior finds it emblematic of a social reality in which Indians don't have the kinds of opportunities that white kids take for granted. And this feeling of Junior's is substantiated by the realities he sees around him: other kids on the rez, including Mary, get substandard educations and don't go to college; don't get jobs and, in fact, often can't find good jobs because there aren't many ways to make an income on the rez.

There's a sense throughout the book that Junior feels that the world is sending him the message that he doesn't have a future to look forward to as he grows up, and Junior is rebelling by having hope and making radically different choices than his community to see if they result in a different outcome. 

And let me tell you, 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. What do you do when the world has declared nuclear war on you?

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a pivotal moment in the book because finding the geometry book that once belonged to his mother is a concrete example for Junior of the ways in which he, as a poor Indian, is being denied opportunities that he would have had were he white. His education is demonstrably substandard if the math books in his school haven't been upgraded since his mom was in school thirty years before, and education is one of the most effective ways to escape poverty.

So Junior isn't being melodramatic when he feels that the world has "declared nuclear war" on him – from where Junior is sitting, it seems that the world, in fact, is conspiring to keep him down. This is especially poignant because Junior is so consumed by his hopes and dreams, which we see from his dedication to his cartoons.

When he sees his mother's name in the book, Junior feels that his precious hopes are being crushed, which explains the violence of his reaction. Alexie is demonstrating here that the anger many minorities feel about the obstacles they face is not disproportionate to the unfair reality in which they live.

Chapter 5 Quotes

“You’ve been fighting since you were born,” he said. “You fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope.”

Related Characters: Mr. P (speaker), Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Junior has been suspended from school for throwing the geometry book at his teacher, Mr. P comes to see him and gives him, perhaps, the best gifts possible: forgiveness, and an outlet for the hope that had been crushed by finding the geometry book. Mr. P reminds Junior that he has already struggled through and overcome tremendous obstacles and that if he wants to live a better life he needs to take matters into his own hands and get himself off the rez to a world that might be able to offer him the resources and hope that could carry him out of poverty.

This lecture sticks with Junior and leads him to his decision to transfer to a white high school where he will have more opportunities. This part of the book shows how important it is to have mentors who can remind you to believe in yourself and give you advice about how to move forward. That this mentorship comes only in an extreme situation, and that the community's reaction to Junior's decision is so severe, suggests that the kids on the rez are not generally being told that they have access to these choices and resources. This is an example of the way poverty keeps people down, of how hopelessness can create a kind of cycle where those without hope actively work against those within a community who still have hope, and would have kept Junior down had Mr. P not intervened.

At the same time, it's important to note that Mr. P, a white person, is telling Junior that his only hope is to escape from his own people. Mr. P may be right, but it is an indictment of the world that has made the rez such a hopeless place that Junior is forced to choose between himself and his community if he wants to find a more hopeful future.

Chapter 7 Quotes

“You always thought you were better than me,” he yelled.
“No, no, I don’t think I’m better than anybody. I think I’m worse than everybody else.”
“Why are you leaving?”
“I have to go. I’m going to die if I don’t leave.”

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Rowdy (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Rowdy's friendship with Junior is one of the primary plot arcs of the book, and this is the moment in which it begins to fray. When Junior tells Rowdy he is changing schools, Rowdy takes it personally, suggesting that Junior's choice is an implicit judgment of everyone else and a rejection of Rowdy. Junior tries to explain that this is a choice not made out of superiority or arrogance, but one made because he feels desperate – he doesn't think he can make it, doesn't think he'll survive, if he stays on the rez.

Junior's assertion that he will die if he doesn't leave is a dramatic one, but the book proves its truth. So many people in Junior's life die over the course of the book, and most of them are senseless deaths due to conditions on the reservation. This drives home just how dire the poverty that Junior lives in is; it could literally kill him if he doesn't go to another school, so he has to make a choice that alienates his best and only friend in order to take a chance that he might find a better life elsewhere.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“My name is Junior,” I said. “And my name is Arnold. I’m Junior and Arnold. I’m both.”
I felt like two different people inside of one body.
No, I felt like a magician slicing myself in half, with Junior living on the north side of the Spokane River and Arnold living on the south.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Penelope
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

When Junior gets to the high school Reardan, filled mostly with white students, he begins to experience a phenomenon that feels like splitting himself in half. He feels like he has to be a different person around white people than he is around Indians, and he feels like his true self doesn't fit quite right in either world. The difficulty with his name is emblematic of this feeling. The Indians in his community have always called him Junior, but his official name is Arnold, and the white students want to call him Arnold. Junior has to explain that both names are his – both are equally true – but it doesn't seem that anyone else can see everything about him that these two names encompass.

This shows the ways in which stereotypes and social norms constrict Junior's ability to be himself, and it also shows the tangible differences between his background and the backgrounds of the white students. While the white students are suspicious of his two names, Junior is delighted that white students can have names like "Penelope," which is a name that he would never find on the rez.

I felt brave all of a sudden. Yeah, maybe it was just a stupid and immature school yard fight. Or maybe it was the most important moment of my life. Maybe I was telling the world that I was no longer a human target.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Roger
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage comes when Junior has just defended his honor by punching Roger after Roger told a racist joke. This is a moment of huge growth for Junior, who has been bullied all his life and has relied on Rowdy to protect him. Without Rowdy nearby, Junior can finally come into his own and protect his own values and dignity, which is important to his coming of age.

This moment also shows that Junior is committed to protecting and defending his identity as an Indian, even though he is attending the white school and his tribe thinks he is a traitor. He could have chosen to ignore Roger's casual racism and try to fit in with the white students by not standing out, but instead he asserted himself as who he is: an Indian who won't be messed with. This proves to be a good choice for Junior, as it is asserting his real identity that allows him to eventually be accepted socially.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“Hey buddy,” I would have said. “How do I make a beautiful white girl fall in love with me?”
“Well, buddy,” he would have said. “The first thing you have to do is change the way you look, the way you talk, and the way you walk. And then she’ll think you’re her fricking Prince Charming.”

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Rowdy (speaker), Penelope
Related Symbols: White
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Junior realizes he has a crush on Penelope and, while he doesn't know how Penelope feels about him, she is being nice to him which gives him hope that they could end up together. He thinks about emailing Rowdy to ask advice since Rowdy is his best friend (even though they are fighting), but he thinks better of it, perhaps because Rowdy's tough love approach has begun to seem pessimistic rather than realistic.

Junior imagines Rowdy telling him that the only way for a white girl to fall in love with him would be if he were white, too, and essentially a different person. While that would seem to be the racist reality that he and Rowdy grew up with, being at Reardan has changed what seems possible for Junior (which is, in part, why he transferred there in the first place). This is both a moment of hope, in which Junior is beginning to see possibilities that were unthinkable before, but also a moment of sadness in which Junior is still reckoning with a racist reality that could keep him from the things he most wants. And both of those things – hope and reality – continue to be embodied in Junior's suddenly difficult friendship with Rowdy.

Chapter 15 Quotes

There are all kinds of addicts, I guess. We all have pain. And we all look for ways to make the pain go away.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Dad, Penelope
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

A big part of Junior's growth when he goes to Reardan is his growing understanding of and empathy for the white students he's in class with. Before going to Reardan, Junior had associated whiteness with perfection, possibility, and beauty, but he is beginning to see that the white students experience pain and difficulty that aren't totally dissimilar from his own. In this passage, he has just heard Penelope throwing up in the bathroom and when he confronts her about her eating disorder she says something reminiscent of the way Junior's dad talks about his alcoholism.

This is a moment of revelation for Junior in that he realizes that Penelope has pain that she is dealing with in a way that is parallel to his own father's coping mechanisms for pain, and it opens up a way for him to empathize with her. Certainly, Junior's peers at Reardan have more opportunities than the kids on the rez, but it's important for Junior to understand that this doesn't mean their lives are completely different. 

Chapter 17 Quotes

Traveling between Reardan and Wellpinit, between the little white town and the reservation, I always felt like a stranger.
I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.
It was like being Indian was my job, but it was only a part-time job. And it didn’t pay well at all.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Travel
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout Junior's time at Reardan, he feels caught between worlds. At school, he is expected to act like a white kid (and, as will become relevant soon, he is expected to have money like white kids do). At home, he is expected to act like an Indian. He feels like a stranger in both places because he doesn't feel that he embodies either identity completely.

It's interesting that he says being Indian is "like a job." This indicates that his Indian-ness is something he feels that he has to work to put on or perform for others, but he doesn't necessarily feel Indian when he is unobserved. A big part of Junior's growth in the story is about learning to negotiate this tension inside himself; he has to come to terms with the fact that he'll never be the "stereotypical" Indian or white kid, but that he can be himself and exist in both worlds without needing to conform to other people's expectations.

Chapter 22 Quotes

I mean, the thing is, plenty of Indians have died because they were drunk. And plenty of drunken Indians have killed other drunken Indians.
But my grandmother had never drunk alcohol in her life. Not one drop. That’s the rarest kind of Indian in the world.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Grandmother Spirit
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book, Junior's grandmother has died because she was run over by a drunk driver. He was close to his grandmother, who (like Junior) was a bit of an outlier among Indians. His grandmother didn't drink, which set her apart, and she was beloved for her open mind and her kindness. Her death is a particular cruelty for Junior because his grandmother avoided drinking – the vice that so often gets Indians in his community killed – and yet she was still killed by alcohol.

His grandmother's senseless death leads Junior to a new hopelessness, as he sees that even with a good faith effort to separate herself from the violence of the rez, his grandmother could not save herself. At the same time, her death galvanizes Junior's anger at the situation on the rez and his desperation to escape it. His grandmother's death suggests that even if he were to have stayed at his school on the rez and made good choices and tried his best, he still could have been consumed by the cycle of poverty and violence that destroys Indian lives. 

Chapter 23 Quotes

Two thousand Indians laughed at the same time. … It was the most glorious noise I’d ever heard.
And I realized that, sure, Indians were drunk and sad and displaced and crazy and mean, but dang, we knew how to laugh.
When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, Junior has leaned heavily on humor to deal with tragedy and hardship. Before this moment, we have only seen this in his drawings and narration, but this scene (when a billionaire embarrasses himself at Junior's grandma's wake) shows that this quality might be common to the entire community on the rez. Junior clarifies that laughing at the wake is not disrespectful, but rather another form of mourning; "laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing," he says.

This scene is a moment of unity on the rez when Junior doesn't feel outside of his community, and it suggests that Junior might have more in common with them than he thinks. This moment also points out the tremendous strain that Indians are under. There are so many tragedies and hardships that laughter has become a common response in the face of grief or the casual racism of whites. It seems that, for Junior and his community, learning to laugh at pain and suffering is one of the only ways they can move forward.

Chapter 24 Quotes

“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,” I said. “By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not.”

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Mrs. Jeremy
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

When Junior's teacher tries to shame him for missing school, Junior's classmates walk out to defend him. This shows that he is finally part of the community at Reardan, though the fact that they leave him behind to speak with his teacher may also signify that for the other students their defense of Junior has an aspect of show to it, a self-conscious attempt to "defend the Indian" rather than support for Junior himself. 

Regardless, Junior then gives this speech to his teacher, which shows his growing maturity and his changing understanding of the world. When Roger made the racist joke, Junior punched him to stand up for himself, and even earlier in the novel Junior threw his schoolbook at his teacher when he was frustrated with his education. Now, though, Junior defends himself not physically, but verbally through an eloquent speech. He is learning to be part of a community and to communicate with others, strongly but without violence.

Also, the content of this speech shows that Junior is moving away from dividing the world into the stark categories he once did. He is no longer as committed to thinking about people in terms of whether they are Indian or white, but rather he is trying to look beyond race to see people's character. This is a worldview that will be more hospitable to Junior's own struggles with his identity, since thinking of people as assholes or not assholes doesn't force him to pigeonhole himself into a single identity based on race.

Chapter 25 Quotes

We had defeated the enemy! We had defeated the champions! We were David who’d thrown a stone into the brain of Goliath!
And then I realized something.
I realized that my team, the Reardan Indians, was Goliath.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Basketball
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, Junior has taken refuge in basketball as an area in which he can excel despite his being Indian. He views basketball as transcending race and class, and therefore being a fairer mode of competition than, say, classroom performance. Because of this, Junior has felt justified in wanting to crush the Wellpinit team (though of course he also wants to win because Rowdy, who has hurt him, is the best player on the other team), and he thought that achieving this goal would make him feel unambiguously good.

However, once he has done it he realizes that his team does still have unfair advantages over Wellpinit. The people on the Reardan team have stable families, nice things, and general security in the present and in their futures. The Indian players who do not have those luxuries don't leave their problems off the court; how could it not affect their playing if they are grieving a loved one or if they're hungry, for example? This is a humbling realization for Junior, because it is a moment in which he realizes that he has to be careful with the advantages he has been given and he has to prioritize empathy and kindness. Otherwise, he might become one of the people who are making Indian lives harder, and he can't bear to do that.  

Chapter 27 Quotes

Gordy gave me this book by a Russian dude named Tolstoy, who wrote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Well, I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn’t know Indians. And he didn’t know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reason: the fricking booze.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Gordy
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, Junior has experienced unbelievable hardship due to the rampant alcohol abuse in his community. This passage comes right before Junior reveals one more tragedy, the alcohol-related death of his sister. While Gordy looks to Tolstoy for illumination on the things that make families unhappy, Junior has firsthand experience that leads him to a different conclusion.

His statement that alcohol is what makes all families unhappy shows how pervasive this problem is on the rez, which is especially heartbreaking because alcoholism is a much more tangible and preventable problem than, say, general marital malaise, which might be Gordy's experience of unhappiness in families. This passage fits with Junior's insistence on being very concrete about goals and problems, and very frank about the state of the world. Junior has no patience for euphemism, and, just as he doesn't respect goals that are so vague and lofty as to be unachievable, he doesn't respect vague assessments of a problem that he considers, in reality, to be very specific. 

There is also a sense in which one can read Tolstoy's assertion as racist or classist. Junior is suggesting that all unhappy families can be unhappy in their own ways when those families are privileged (such as the rich Russian families that Tolstoy was writing about). Families mired in poverty and despair can't afford, or manage, to be unhappy except in the same way: because of the misery exacted by poverty and racism.

Chapter 28 Quotes

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.
And to the tribe of cartoonists.
And to the tribe of chronic masturbators.
And the tribe of teenage boys.
And the tribe of small-town kids.
And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners.
And the tribe of tortilla-chips-and-salsa lovers.
And the tribe of poverty.
And the tribe of funeral-goers.
And the tribe of beloved sons.
And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends.
It was a huge realization.
And that’s when I knew that I was going to be okay.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker)
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a watershed moment for Junior in which he can finally let go of his tendency to relentlessly divide the world into Indian and white. He has been so perturbed by his inability to decide whether he is more white or more Indian, or which side of himself he should bring out in a particular context. Here, he is finally realizing that his identity (and the identities of others) cannot be reduced along a single axis. Junior has many interests and qualities that connect him to others and those are sufficient connections to transcend race and class.

Junior knows at this moment that he has the power to define himself and his choices. Junior understands, too, that this revelation does not apply to everyone; just because Junior has broken free of a worldview limited by the racism directed towards Indians does not mean that his Indian friends will be able to do the same. Junior recognizes that his success means he will have to leave some people and realities behind, so even as it is empowering there is also an element of sadness. Junior knows that he is going to be okay, but as part of that "okay-ness" he is going to have to leave behind things that he loved.

Chapter 29 Quotes

“You’re an old-time nomad,” Rowdy said. “You’re going to keep moving all over the world in search of food and water and grazing land. That’s pretty cool.”

Related Characters: Rowdy (speaker), Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.)
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, Junior and Rowdy have finally made up. Rowdy has come to terms with Junior's decision to leave the rez, and Junior has accepted that Rowdy is not choosing the same path. Over a game of basketball, the two of them settle into a new dynamic in their friendship in which they can enjoy each other's company without being possessive or co-dependent. Their personalities can evolve independently, in other words, which shows that they've both grown up tremendously.

In this passage, Rowdy is offering Junior a kind observation, that Junior's choices remind him of nomadic Indians of pre-reservation times. Throughout the book, Junior has had a hard time reconciling his choices with his community. His need to leave the rez has made him feel not Indian enough, but Rowdy has now given him a way to think about his choices that connects him deeply to Indian history. This is the ultimate form of acceptance that Rowdy could give Junior.

I would always love Rowdy. And I would always miss him, too. Just as I would always love and miss my grandmother, my big sister, and Eugene.
Just as I would always love and miss my reservation and my tribe.
I hoped and prayed that they would someday forgive me for leaving them.
I hoped and prayed that I would someday forgive myself for leaving them.

Related Characters: Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) (speaker), Rowdy, Mary Runs Away , Grandmother Spirit , Eugene
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

This book refuses to give readers easy answers to complex problems, and its conclusion is no exception. Junior has grown and matured and he has made brave and difficult decisions that have put him on a path to achieving his dreams. However, Alexie does not pretend that this comes without cost or that Junior's problems are all solved.

Even though Junior has come to deep realizations about the complexity of his identity and his ability to connect to others, he is still not immune from feeling guilty about the choices he has made to separate himself from his community, and Alexie's placement of this statement at the end of the book indicates that Junior likely never will. Junior's ability, though, to sit with his ambivalence and declare that both things are true at once is a tremendous evolution from the Junior at the beginning of the book who could only see the world divided into separate categories.

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Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) Character Timeline in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The timeline below shows where the character Junior (Arnold Spirit, Jr.) appears in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 - The Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club
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Fourteen-year-old Junior was “born with water on the brain”—that is, with too much cerebral spinal fluid, which... (full context)
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Junior’s hydrocephalus gave him a number of physical problems, such as ten extra teeth and lopsided... (full context)
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Junior also looked unusual, with a large head, hands, and feet on a very skinny body,... (full context)
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Junior draws cartoons, especially cartoons of his friends and family, because he finds words too limited... (full context)
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Drawing also makes Junior feel important, as if he could grow up to be somebody famous: his artistic talent... (full context)
Chapter 2 - Why Chicken Means So Much to Me
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One thing Junior’s cartoons can’t do, however, is alleviate his family’s poverty. For all his talent, Junior is... (full context)
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Junior makes it clear that hunger isn’t the worst thing about being poor. Even if his... (full context)
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...about being poor is what happened when his “best friend Oscar”—the family dog—got sick. To Junior, Oscar was the only living thing he could depend on—more dependable than any of his... (full context)
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However, when Junior asks his mom to take Oscar to the vet, she tells him they can’t afford... (full context)
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Junior describes what his parents might have been able to do “if someone had paid attention... (full context)
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...get the chance to realize their dreams or any choice about who they can become. Junior describes how the cycle of poverty makes people feel that they deserve to be poor... (full context)
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Junior feels this sense of defeat when he says goodbye to Oscar, before his dad shoots... (full context)
Chapter 3 - Revenge Is My Middle Name
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After Oscar’s death, Junior wants to disappear, but his best friend Rowdy talks him out of it, claiming, “It’s... (full context)
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Rowdy often comes to Junior’s house to avoid his abusive father, who is “drinking hard and throwing hard punches.” When... (full context)
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“That was a mistake,” Junior says about laughing at Rowdy. Although Junior knows Rowdy would never hurt him, the violent... (full context)
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Because Junior is alone, the drunken Andruss brothers make fun of his brain disorder, knock him down,... (full context)
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Though this episode illustrates Rowdy’s toughness, Junior knows Rowdy also has a softer side: Rowdy loves old comics, and Junior’s cartoons always... (full context)
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Junior and Rowdy don’t talk about their dreams with anyone else but each other. Junior calculates... (full context)
Chapter 4 - Because Geometry Is Not a Country Somewhere Near France
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On his first day of high school, Junior is particularly excited about his first geometry class, confessing that isosceles triangles make him feel... (full context)
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Still, Junior is “much more in love with the right angles of buildings” than with any imaginary... (full context)
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Junior says Mary is “good at ruining things.” Although Mary is beautiful, strong, and funny, she... (full context)
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In particular, Junior is excited about school, particularly playing basketball with Rowdy on the high school team. They... (full context)
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...that he sometimes forgets to come to school. When he arrives and passes out books, Junior notices that his book has his mom’s maiden name inscribed in it—meaning the book is... (full context)
Chapter 5 - Hope Against Hope
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Having broken Mr. P’s nose, Junior is suspended from school. It’s the first time he’s really been in trouble, and his... (full context)
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Junior is “freaked out” by Mr. P’s questions about why he threw the book, and frightened... (full context)
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...he hurt—both psychologically, and physically by beating kids who didn’t conform—but he can apologize to Junior. Junior realizes that he is listening to a confession. (full context)
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Mr. P reveals to Junior that Mary used to want to be a writer; before she gave up on her... (full context)
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Mr. P doesn’t want Junior to give up like his sister did. In an emotional speech, he tells Junior that... (full context)
Chapter 6 - Go Means Go
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After thinking about Mr. P’s words to him, Junior tells his parents that he wants to transfer immediately to the high school in Reardan,... (full context)
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Junior’s parents quickly agree to his plan, even though it will be difficult to get him... (full context)
Chapter 7 - Rowdy Sings the Blues
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The next day, Junior finds Rowdy on the playground and tells him that he is transferring to Reardan. Rowdy... (full context)
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Junior understands that Rowdy hates Reardan because Reardan beat Wellpinit at every team sport in the... (full context)
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As Rowdy begins to understand that Junior is serious, he turns away, and Junior touches his shoulder. Rowdy shoves Junior away, calling... (full context)
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...even more upset. Rowdy screams in rage and pain, and it is the worst thing Junior has ever heard. After Rowdy accuses Junior of thinking he is better than Rowdy, Junior... (full context)
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Rowdy punches Junior hard in the face, knocking him to the ground. As Rowdy walks away, Junior understands... (full context)
Chapter 8 - How to Fight Monsters
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Junior begins school at Reardan the next day. His dad tells him to remember that the... (full context)
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Recognizing that “the only other Indian in town” is the high school’s racist mascot, Junior feels out of place as the other students begin to arrive. He feels that Reardan... (full context)
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Finally, Junior works up the courage to go inside and pick up his schedule from the front... (full context)
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When the teacher calls Junior by his full name, Arnold Spirit, Penelope asks accusingly why he told her his name... (full context)
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Penelope also says Junior has a funny accent, which makes him afraid to talk for his whole first week... (full context)
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However, when Roger, a big, athletic upperclassman, tells him a horribly racist joke, Junior decides he has to do something: “I wasn’t just defending myself. I was defending Indians,... (full context)
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To Junior’s surprise, Roger doesn’t fight back. Instead, Roger and his friends are shocked, and act as... (full context)
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When Junior demands to finish the fight after school, Roger calls him crazy and walks away—leaving Junior... (full context)
Chapter 9 - Grandmother Gives Me Some Advice
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Although Junior is terrified that Roger will come after him and kill him, his grandmother reassures him... (full context)
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Because his parents don’t have enough gas in the car to drive him, Junior gets a ride to school from his dad’s best friend Eugene, who rides a motorcycle.... (full context)
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At the front door, Junior runs into Roger and thinks he will have to fight. “My whole life is a... (full context)
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Junior’s relief and happiness at having earned Roger’s respect gives him the courage to greet Penelope... (full context)
Chapter 10 - Tears of a Clown
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Junior remembers that when he was twelve, he fell in love with another popular girl, an... (full context)
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One night during a sleepover with Rowdy, Junior confessed his feelings for Dawn. After being silent for a moment, Rowdy declared that Dawn... (full context)
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Junior hates the way he has always cried so easily, whether he is happy or sad... (full context)
Chapter 11 – Halloween
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On Halloween, Junior and Penelope both arrive at school dressed as homeless people—an easy costume for Junior, he... (full context)
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While plenty of people give Junior spare change and candy, and some compliment his bravery in going to the white school,... (full context)
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Although Junior had felt “almost honorable” as a poor kid raising money to help other poor people,... (full context)
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At school, Junior tells a shocked and concerned Penelope what happened. She sympathizes (even touching his bruises, to... (full context)
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Still, Junior and Penelope don’t say much to each other. Junior wishes he could ask Rowdy for... (full context)
Chapter 12 - Slouching Toward Thanksgiving
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Over the next few weeks in Reardan, Junior endures what he describes as “the loneliest time of my life,” during which he begins... (full context)
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...petrified wood is formed. Rather than the wood transforming into rock, as Mr. Dodge says, Junior states that rock replaces the wood, with minerals keeping the shape of the tree as... (full context)
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Furious at being contradicted, Mr. Dodge belittles Junior’s education from the rez, and calls on Gordy, the “class genius,” to explain the truth.... (full context)
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Junior tries to thank Gordy for standing up for him, but Gordy just says that he... (full context)
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Junior takes the bus to the edge of the reservation and hitchhikes home. As he explains... (full context)
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When he gets home on this day, Junior learns that his sister Mary has married a Flathead Indian and moved to Montana without... (full context)
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Feeling shamed and inspired in turn by Mary’s dramatic act, Junior decides to face up to a confrontation and asks Gordy to be his friend. In... (full context)
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Gordy teaches Junior how to read books: first for the story; then for the words, taking every one... (full context)
Chapter 13 - My Sister Sends Me an E-Mail
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Junior receives an enthusiastic email from his sister in which Mary tells Junior about her new... (full context)
Chapter 14 – Thanksgiving
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Rowdy’s dad answers the door and says Rowdy isn’t home. He looks at Junior’s cartoon and calls it “kind of gay,” but promises to give it to Rowdy. Junior... (full context)
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As he walks away from the house, Junior sees Rowdy holding the cartoon and watching him sadly from an upstairs window. When Junior... (full context)
Chapter 15 - Hunger Pains
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One day, when Junior leaves class to use the bathroom, he hears someone vomiting violently in the girls’ bathroom... (full context)
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...hide what she’s done by chewing a piece of cinnamon gum. When she asks what Junior is looking at, he says he’s looking at an anorexic. Penelope says haughtily that she’s... (full context)
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Junior reflects that Penelope’s purging and his dad’s drinking are both forms of addiction—that everyone has... (full context)
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Junior finds all of this sexy, including Penelope’s ego and her cinnamon-vomit breath. He understands for... (full context)
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Over the next few weeks, Junior and Penelope become “the hot item at Reardan High School—not exactly a romantic couple [but]... (full context)
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Besides this, talking with Penelope makes Junior realize that they have more important things in common. At first, Junior makes fun of... (full context)
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However, Junior admires Penelope’s more specific dream of going to Stanford to study architecture: her desire “to... (full context)
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While Junior points out to Penelope that she won’t get to travel very far if she doesn’t... (full context)
Chapter 16 - Rowdy Gives Me Advice About Love
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One day while watching Penelope at a volleyball game, Junior marvels at how beautiful she is with her pale skin and her white uniform: “all... (full context)
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Junior emails Rowdy to ask what he should do about being in love with a white... (full context)
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Junior asks Gordy for advice, and Gordy Googles “in love with a white girl,” finding an... (full context)
Chapter 17 - Dance, Dance, Dance
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In December, Junior takes Penelope to the Winter Formal, which is complicated for him because he’s been trying... (full context)
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But Junior again feels nervous when Roger invites them along with his friends to drive into Spokane... (full context)
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Halfway through the meal, Junior is so nervous about how he’s going to pay for the pancakes that he goes... (full context)
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Amazed that Roger is being so nice—“he was POLITE! How many great football players are polite?”—Junior decides to confess why he was getting sick. Though he can’t bring himself to admit... (full context)
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After the meal, Junior claims that his dad will pick him up at the school, and so Roger drops... (full context)
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Under Penelope’s persistent questions, Junior also admits that his dad isn’t picking him up. Refusing to let Junior hitchhike home,... (full context)
Chapter 18 - Don't Trust Your Computer
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Missing Rowdy, Junior emails him a photo of his smiling face, and gets a picture of Rowdy’s naked... (full context)
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...conform were ostracized because they were a threat to the strength of the tribe. Both Junior and Gordy are weird people who have been ostracized, and so, Junior declares, they have... (full context)
Chapter 19 - My Sister Sends Me a Letter
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In another happy letter, Mary tells Junior that although she hasn’t been able to find a job yet, she has begun to... (full context)
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Mary encloses a photo of her “gorgeous new place,” an aluminum trailer that Junior, who reproduces it in cartoon form, thinks “looks like a TV dinner tray.” (full context)
Chapter 20 - Reindeer Games
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Though Junior almost doesn’t go to basketball tryouts because he’s afraid of being humiliated, his dad convinces... (full context)
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When Junior arrives at the gym for the first day of practice, he feels short, skinny, and... (full context)
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...players quitting by the end of the drill—and then assigns random pairs for full-court one-on-one. Junior plays against Roger, who easily gets the ball away from him, and then runs him... (full context)
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Though Junior is intimidated by Roger, he figures out how to keep him from stealing the ball,... (full context)
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...later, the team travels to Wellpinit for their first game, which happens to be against Junior’s old classmates. When the Reardan team arrives outside the gym, they can hear the Indian... (full context)
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...team walks in, the gym falls completely silent. The entire tribe turns its back on Junior—all except for Rowdy, who simply looks like he wants to kill him. Both angered and... (full context)
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Junior’s new teammates laugh with him as they make their way to the locker room. Once... (full context)
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As soon as Coach sends Junior into the game, someone in the crowd throws a quarter at him, cutting his forehead... (full context)
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As soon as Junior rejoins the game, however, Rowdy goes after him. He elbows Junior in the head as... (full context)
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Late that night, Coach visits Junior in the hospital, apologizing for the way the game turned out and applauding Junior’s commitment... (full context)
Chapter 21 - And a Partridge in a Pear Tree
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When Christmas Eve comes, Junior’s family doesn’t have enough money for presents. Junior’s dad is so depressed that—as he always... (full context)
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When Dad gets home, he does nothing but lie on his bed. He tells Junior he’s sorry about Christmas, and Junior says it’s okay, though it isn’t. He wonders why... (full context)
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Dad tells Junior he got him something and tells him to look inside one of his boots. It... (full context)
Chapter 22 - Red Versus White
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...that he hasn’t fallen in love with white people and still sees good in Indians, Junior compares his family to the families of his white classmates. He loves Mary and his... (full context)
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...Reardan people can be strangers to each other even though it’s a very small town. Junior is realistic about the drawbacks of both towns, but believes after careful thought that it’s... (full context)
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Junior thinks the best thing about Reardan is Penelope—as well as Gordy, maybe—and the best thing... (full context)
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...people, and was famous at powwows simply for being loved by everyone she met—and, as Junior abruptly reveals, she was killed shortly after the holidays when she was hit by a... (full context)
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The surgeon who works on Grandmother when she is brought to the emergency room tells Junior’s family that her last words were “Forgive him,” referring to Gerald, the drunk driver who... (full context)
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To Junior, the fact that his grandmother was killed by a drunk driver is especially ironic because... (full context)
Chapter 23 – Wake
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...wake is held three days later, almost two thousand Indians attend. Out of respect for Junior’s and his family’s grief, they stop tormenting him for being a traitor, an act of... (full context)
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...has to be moved onto the football field—a “crazy and fun and sad” send-off that Junior knows Grandmother would have loved. (full context)
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Junior, realizing that “when it comes to death, [Indians] know that laughter and tears are pretty... (full context)
Chapter 24 - Valentine Heart
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Junior begins his next chapter with the following sentence: “A few days after I gave Penelope... (full context)
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In grief, Junior’s Dad goes on a drinking binge, Mom goes to church every day, and Junior draws... (full context)
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From Gordy, Junior gets a book with what seems like a good definition of his grief: Euripides’ Medea,... (full context)
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...twenty days of school because of wakes, funerals, and his own and his parents’ depression, Junior goes back to class. His social studies teacher, Mrs. Jeremy, makes a mocking comment about... (full context)
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To show his support for Junior, Gordy stands and drops his textbook, leading the rest of the class to do the... (full context)
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Junior tells Mrs. Jeremy that he used to think the world was broken down into tribes... (full context)
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To make it through the many deaths and changes in his life, Junior makes a “grieving ceremony” out of writing lists of all the things that give him... (full context)
Chapter 25 - In Like a Lion
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As basketball season continues, Junior’s shooting makes him an unexpected star on Reardan’s basketball team. The high expectations and encouragement... (full context)
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...the rematch between Wellpinit and Reardan (this time in the Reardan gym) approaches, he and Junior are the players to watch—Rowdy because of his skill, and Junior because he will be... (full context)
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A local news crew interviews Junior, who finds it difficult to say he feels anything other than “weird” until he admits... (full context)
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Coach assigns Junior—the team’s “secret weapon”—to guard Rowdy throughout the game. Junior isn’t sure he can do it,... (full context)
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When the two teams take the court, the Reardan crowd boos Wellpinit. Rowdy and Junior send each other “serious hate signals” across the gym, Junior noting that “you have to... (full context)
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When Rowdy goes to dunk the ball and humiliate Reardan on the opening play, Junior jumps just ahead of him, rises above him, and steals the ball out of his... (full context)
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Ultimately, Reardan beats Wellpinit by forty points, with Junior holding Rowdy to only four. But Junior’s joy at the victory immediately turns to shame... (full context)
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...loss. The Reardan team wins all the way to the playoffs, but ultimately gets what Junior sees as cosmic comeuppance in a loss that leaves them all crying for hours in... (full context)
Chapter 26 - Rowdy and I Have a Long and Serious Discussion About Basketball
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After basketball season ends, Junior emails Rowdy an apology for what happened at the game, and Rowdy sends back a... (full context)
Chapter 27 - Because Russian Guys Are Not Always Geniuses
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Junior decides that the biggest difference between Indians and white people is the number of deaths... (full context)
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Junior’s bitterness comes from the news he has just heard: one morning, Reardan’s guidance counselor, Miss... (full context)
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...counseling a student whose sibling has died, Miss Warren doesn’t know what to say to Junior and asks him to wait in her office for his father. Junior runs outside away... (full context)
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Dad tries to comfort Junior by telling him that Mary was too drunk to feel any pain, but Junior finds... (full context)
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Junior dreams about how, when he was seven, he ate a bunch of cantaloupe at a... (full context)
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Junior’s dad begins to cry, and can’t stop even though he is trying, Junior guesses, to... (full context)
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When Dad and Junior walk inside, the house is full of family. Junior’s mom pulls him into her lap... (full context)
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Mary’s funeral is held two days later. Junior feels like he is living in a fog—or, more accurately, a tiny, freezing room with... (full context)
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...hiding there to watch the burial, sending both of them sprawling. As they sit up, Junior realizes that for the first time in their friendship, Rowdy is crying, but Junior is... (full context)
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Junior can’t stop laughing even though he wants to, and realizes that Rowdy thinks he is... (full context)
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The next day, Junior can’t bear to stay in his house, where he won’t be able to stop thinking... (full context)
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Instead, Junior goes to school, where his white friends, including Penelope, offer their concern and sympathy. He... (full context)
Chapter 28 - My Final Freshman Year Report Card
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At the end of the school year, Junior goes to the cemetery with his mom and dad to clean the graves of Grandmother... (full context)
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...find her dreams—and how he is making the same attempt, even if it kills him too—Junior begins to cry for his sister, himself, and his tribe. He wishes everyone could “get... (full context)
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In the midst of his tears, Junior has a huge realization: that he will never drink and never kill himself, but will... (full context)
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However, it also makes Junior think of people who are not going to be okay—including Rowdy, whom he desperately misses... (full context)
Chapter 29 - Talking About Turtles
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Junior thinks about the beauty of the reservation, particularly the many tall, beautiful pine trees that... (full context)
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That July, when Junior is ten, it is “crazy hot and dry,” and he and Rowdy spend a lot... (full context)
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Junior is afraid of the lake, not only because of its depth but also because of... (full context)
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Since Junior doesn’t want to tell Rowdy he’s scared, they walk the five miles from Junior’s house... (full context)
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...ten feet of the top, from which they see the whole reservation—their entire world. In Junior’s words, “our entire world, at that moment, was green and golden and perfect.” Even Rowdy... (full context)
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Looking back, Junior can hardly believe that he and Rowdy climbed that tree. He then says that he... (full context)
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Junior spends the first part of summer reading comics and missing his white friends—Penelope, whom he’s... (full context)
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One day, Junior hears a knock on his front door, and Rowdy walks in, saying that he still... (full context)
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...shoot hoops for a while without talking, Rowdy suggests they play one-on-one. Rowdy adds that Junior has never beaten him in one-on-one, but Junior tells him that’s going to change someday. (full context)
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Rowdy passes Junior the ball, and before he begins to play, Junior asks Rowdy once again to come... (full context)
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Rowdy says he had a dream about Junior a few months before. Junior was standing on the Great Wall of China, looking happy,... (full context)
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Hearing Rowdy say that he is happy for him makes Junior begin to cry. He feels he will always love and miss Rowdy, just as he... (full context)
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When Rowdy tells Junior to stop crying, Junior asks if they will still know each other when they are... (full context)