“Reservations were meant to be prisons, you know? Indians were supposed to move on to reservations and die. We were supposed to disappear.” 
Sherman Alexie’s funny and heartbreaking novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is the story of a teenage boy trying to figure out his identity, but it is also a biting indictment of American Indian Reservations as isolating, other-ing, and smothering.
Junior Spirit spends the whole novel pursuing a future beyond his poverty-stricken and booze-soaked reservation while still holding on to his identity as a Spokane Indian. In the novel, Alexie is critical of reservations, which are the creations of white people determined to destroy Indian culture, but he also emphasizes the value and importance of tribe and culture for many Indians. The trouble for Junior is that many in his community seem to equate the tribe with the reservation. So when Junior follows his teacher’s advice to get out of the reservation by transferring to the rich white Reardan high school thirty miles away, his tribe treats him like a traitor.
He feels trapped in the reservation because of its debilitating cycles of poverty and neglect. When Junior describes his parents, he goes on about how his mom could have been a college professor and his dad could have been the fifth best saxophone player west of the Mississippi if only someone had paid attention to their dreams. “But,” Junior explains, “we reservation Indians don’t get to realize our dreams. We don’t get those chances. Or choices. We’re just poor. That’s all we are.” The reservation, as Junior sees it, is full of wasted potential and crushed dreams.
When Junior arrives at Reardan High, where he hopes he will have a better chance to achieve his dreams, he is an outsider and faces racism and name-calling (chief, Tonto, redskin, squaw boy) because he is from the reservation. He feels like his identity is torn in half – at school he is half Indian and on the reservation his “betrayal” makes him half white.  Still, Junior has hope, and is eventually able to find friends and acceptance at his new high school and reconciles leaving the reservation with being a Spokane Indian. Nothing, however, changes for the rest of the reservation; the three deaths right in a row of Junior’s Grandmother, his dad’s best friend, and his sister (all three deaths attributable to alcohol) seem to prove the toxicity of reservation life.
As he is mourning his sister’s death, Junior comments that “I was crying because I knew five or ten or fifteen more Spokanes would die during the next year, and that most of them would die because of booze.”  Junior comes to the sad realization that even though knows that he will be okay, he knows many others, like his best friend whose father hits him and who is so angry at everything, will not be, and he does not know how to help them.
And yet the novel ends on a positive, even hopeful note, hopeful that it is possible for Junior to move beyond the reservation and still retain his sense of belonging to the Spokane tribe. Alexie writes a powerful commentary on the sad state of life for many people who live on reservations, and his critique is damning. Because it is not that kind of book, Part-Time Indian does not offer any sweeping solutions to the problems with reservations  but it does offer very real, positive portrayal of modern Indians which is very empowering, especially for kids growing up on reservations like the one in the book.
Empowering Native Youth is something that Sherman Alexie cares deeply about. He is a founding board member of Longhouse Media, whose mission “is the catalyze indigenous people and communities to use media as a tool for self-expression, cultural preservation, and social change.” 
 Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 216
 Such as… p. 31 “…I was staring at a geometry book that was at least thirty years older than I was… My school and tribe are so poor and sad that we have to study from the same dang books our parents studied from. And that is absolutely the saddest thing in the world.”
 Longhouse Media mission statement http://www.longhousemedia.org/about.html