The protagonist Junior (Arnold Spirit) faces many challenges on and off the reservation in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. On the reservation, Junior feels that he is not getting a quality education. When he receives his mother's previous math textbook, he realizes that the school materials have not been updated for decades. He is angry because he feels like he and others on the reservation are being treated like they are not worthy of a solid education. In addition, Junior sees the rampant alcoholism that is destroying many people's lives on the reservation, and he wishes that there were some way correct this problem.
Junior decides to pursue his education outside the reservation so that he can have better opportunities than the ones offered on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He travels miles to Reardan, the nearest school off the reservation. There he is the only Native American student, and he does not fit in easily with the rest of the crowd. Plus, his best friend Rowdy who is back on the reservation feels like Junior has betrayed him, so after Junior leaves to Reardan, Rowdy cuts off their friendship. Junior must deal with many challenges in order to try to improve his life.