Sherman Alexie's work of young-adult fiction, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is about fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit, Jr.'s struggle with his identity as he moves to a new school. The book is based on some of Alexie's own experiences as a young man. Arnold, called Junior by friends and family, grew up on the Spokane Reservation and attends the school there. He is unhappy with the education he receives there, though, because, like everything else on The Rez, it is behind the times and falling apart. Junior fears the lack of opportunities available to him on The Rez will trap him there in an underdeveloped limbo for the rest of his life.
To get a better education, Junior decides to attend a school full of white kids several towns away. It's not only difficult for Junior to make the long journey to and from school every day, he also feels like a stranger both at school and at home. At Reardan High, Junior is the only First Nations person, making him feel like an outsider. Other students also make fun of him for his big head and thick glasses. At home, Junior has lost his only friend because he thinks Junior is a traitor for going to a "white school." In a way, Junior feels he is giving up part of his identity as a First Nations person. By splitting his time between the white school and The Rez, and trying to fit in at both, he feels he is effectively a "part-time" Indian.
The "absolutely true diary" portion of the title is appropriate because the novel is presented like a diary, including some of Junior's drawings. The title is also a little funny because this is a work of fiction — therefore, not entirely true — based on Alexie's own life. Although the circumstances and characters of this book are fictional, the struggles Alexie describe are absolutely real for many people today.