In Like a Lion: True Diary Chapter Analysis

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What is the chapter “In Like a Lion” in the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian about? What happens in this chapter and what does Junior learn?

“In Like a Lion” is a chapter in the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It is about Junior’s time on the Reardan basketball team. Junior becomes a star player on the team, and forms a rivalry with the Wellpinit team and his former best friend Rowdy.

Keep reading for a summary of the chapter “In Like a Lion.”

In Like a Lion: Basketball Tryouts

In the chapter “In Like a Lion” Junior joins the basketball team. Although Junior doesn’t think he’ll make either the varsity or junior varsity team, he tries out for basketball anyway. There are 40 students competing for 24 varsity and junior varsity spots.

After running 100 laps around the gym, the team hopefuls play full-court one-on-one games so the coach can assess their skills. Junior is paired with Roger. Predictably, Roger easily steals the ball from Junior as he starts to dribble, then knocks Junior over when it’s Junior’s turn to play defense. The coach acknowledges that Roger’s much bigger than Junior and asks if Junior needs a break. Junior really wants a break, but knows that if he takes it, he’ll lose his shot at making the team. He has to prove his tenacity.

The next time Roger knocks Junior down, he jumps up and chases the ball, which has bounced into the stands. He grabs it and sprints back to the court, not even bothering to dribble, running like a fullback. By the time he gets 15 feet away from Roger, who’s ready to tackle him like a linebacker, both boys are screaming. Junior nails a jump shot, then Roger grabs the ball and takes it to the opposite end of the court. Junior stays with him and fouls him to keep him from making a layup.

Having seen enough, the coach calls them off the court, but he doesn’t seem bothered by their untraditional strategies on the court. Roger offers Junior his fist for a fist bump, and Junior knows at this moment that he’s going to make the team. He doesn’t just make the team—he makes varsity. The chapter “In Like a Lion” marks a successful moment for Junior at Reardan.

First Game Against Wellpinit

The next section of “In Like a Lion” explains the game against Wellpinit, Junior’s old school. The first game of the season is against Junior’s old school, Wellpinit High. Junior is so nervous about the game that he vomits four times before it starts.

Not long before, Junior had told Gordy about how people on the reservation call him an apple: “red on the outside and white on the inside.” He says that many Indians think you become as good as white if you aspire to a better life. Junior has had to deal with people on the rez calling him a traitor or ignoring him since he started school at Reardan, but now he faces the unappetizing prospect of returning to the rez in the company of the very people he left them for.

When the Reardan bus pulls up to Wellpinit High, little kids throw rock-filled snowballs at them. As the Reardan team walks toward the gym, Junior can hear the Wellpinit fans chanting. It takes him a moment to realize they’re chanting “Ar-nold sucks! Ar-nold sucks!” They’re making a point of calling him by his Reardan name, Arnold, rather than his reservation name, Junior.

Junior’s coach asks Junior if he’s okay. When Junior says he’s not, his coach tells him he can sit this game out, but Junior refuses.

When the team walks into the gym, the fans go silent. Then, all at the same time, all the spectators in the stands turn their backs on Junior. Junior’s angry, in part because he thinks that if his community had been this organized when it came to educating its children, he might still be there. Thinking about this irony makes him laugh, the sole sound in the gym.

Rowdy, on Wellpinit’s basketball team,  is the only Indian who hasn’t turned his back on Junior, but it’s not out of kindness. Rowdy is glaring at Junior as he passes a ball around his body. He looks like he wants to kill Junior and is tired of waiting. This makes Junior laugh even harder.

Junior’s coach starts to laugh with him, and then the entire Reardan team starts to laugh, and they laugh their way to the locker room. Once in the locker room, Junior starts to cry. The coach tells the team that crying is ok. It means you care. He advises the team, especially Junior, to use that pain to get mad and go out fighting.

The Game

Junior does get mad and he’s ready to play, but as he runs onto the court, someone from the stands throws a quarter that hits him on the forehead. Because he’s bleeding, he can’t play and has to go back to the locker room.

His dad’s friend Eugene, a newly-certified EMT, meets Junior in the locker room and tells him he’ll need stitches. Junior asks Eugene to stitch him up so that he can go back out and play. Eugene finishes in time for Junior to join the second half of the game. Almost as soon as he’s on the court, Junior steals the ball and runs for a layup, with Rowdy close behind him. Mid-air, Rowdy elbows Junior in the head and knocks him unconscious. As the ambulance takes Junior to the ER, the cops at the game try to restrain the Indian adults who have flooded the court to join the two teams, whose players are shoving each other.

The white referees are scared of the Indians, so to please them, they give Rowdy a technical foul for elbowing Junior, but they give the Reardan team four fouls for unsportsmanlike conduct. Wellpinit wins by thirty points, and the doctors say Junior is fine. The chapter “In Like a Lion” details this game, but it won’t be the last one against Wellpinit.

In Like a Lion: True Diary Chapter Analysis

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian summary:

  • How Junior gets split between two worlds when he goes to a mostly white school
  • How Junior overcomes being an outsider to being part of welcoming social circles
  • The tragedies of alcoholism and poverty that leave Junior with renewed strength

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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