illustration of main character, Junior, holding a basketball and looking over his shoulder

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie
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What does Junior say is the biggest problem on the reservation?

Junior says the biggest problem on the reservation is alcoholism.

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Junior says the biggest problem on the Spokane reservation is alcoholism. As he puts it forcefully when challenging the wisdom of the opening line of Anna Karenina about all unhappy families being different, "all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reason: the fricking booze."

Alcohol addiction is pervasive...

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Junior says the biggest problem on the Spokane reservation is alcoholism. As he puts it forcefully when challenging the wisdom of the opening line of Anna Karenina about all unhappy families being different, "all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reason: the fricking booze."

Alcohol addiction is pervasive on the reservation. Even well-meaning people like Junior's parents fall prey to the bottle, using it to escape an often harsh and miserable reality. This alcoholism prevents many on the reservation from being able to progress in life, and it generally represents a loss of hope in the future. Struggling with poverty, many find alcohol a preferred comfort to a sober reality, but it often causes more problems than it solves.

Junior's bright sister, Mary, becomes the book's ultimate victim of drink, even after she picks herself up and decides to pursue her dreams of being a writer. She dies solely because she is too inebriated to save herself when a hot plate catches on fire and sends her trailer into a blaze. Her death in particular becomes a wakeup call for the other characters, with Junior's mother forcing him to swear he will never take a drop of alcohol.

Seeing how destructive alcohol is, Junior is disgusted by it. It becomes a symbol of despair, the antithesis of Junior's hopeful personality and actions.

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