Who Is Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary?

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Who is Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? How does Rowdy help Junior learn about his life and identity?

Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Junior’s best friend. Though they have their differences, the two come together and are able to rekindle their friendship.

Find out more about Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Junior’s best (human) friend. (Junior’s best friend is his dog, Oscar.) Junior considers Rowdy to be the “most important person in [his] life,” even more important than the members of his own family. Rowdy and Junior were born on the same day in the same hospital, and they’ve been friends ever since.

Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the toughest kid on the reservation. He’ll fight anyone—girl or boy, child or adult, human or dog. He even throws punches at the rain. He got into his first fist fight when he was in kindergarten: A first-grader had thrown a piece of ice during a snowball fight, which made Rowdy mad. He punched the first-grader and two of the first-grader’s friends, and then he punched the teacher who tried to stop the fight.

Rowdy’s father is a mean drunk who beats him and Rowdy’s mother, so they both always have bruised and bloody faces. Rowdy spends most of his time at Junior’s house because it’s a “safe place.” Rowdy loves comic books, and not the “cool” ones. He likes things like Casper the Friendly Ghost, comics meant for younger kids. These are perfect for Rowdy because he has a juvenile sense of humor and he struggles to read on grade level. When Rowdy reads, his tough-guy persona disappears and he becomes childlike, laughing at all the dumb jokes. As does Junior, Rowdy pretends he lives inside these fictional worlds—they’re far better places to live than his real life.

At the Powwow

After Oscar’s death, Junior wants to disappear into a hole and stay there forever. But Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian tells him that no one will notice that he’s gone, so he might as well stay.

Every year over Labor Day weekend, the Spokane Tribe has a powwow. It includes singing and dancing, food, alcohol, gambling, and lots of drunken fighting. Junior doesn’t want to go because the weakest Indians always end up getting beat up, and he knows he’ll be an easy target, but Rowdy says he’ll protect Junior and convinces Junior to go with him.

Once there, Rowdy wants to find some bootleg whisky. On the way, Rowdy trips on a tent pole and smashes into a minivan, injuring his face and shoulder. Junior doesn’t handle the situation well:

Mistake #1: Junior laughs. This makes Rowdy mad, and he pushes Junior to the ground. But Rowdy realizes he can’t actually hurt Junior because Junior is his only friend. So instead, he lets Junior go, grabs a shovel, and starts destroying the van, denting doors, knocking off the rearview mirrors, and smashing the windows.

Mistake #2: Scared of both Rowdy and the thought of getting caught at the scene of the crime, Junior flees. But he runs right into the Andruss brothers, 30-year-old triplets who have a history of bullying 14-year-old Junior. They form a circle around Junior and push him toward one another, calling him names like “Hydro Head” and “Hydromatic,” uninspired puns based on Junior’s brain disorder, hydrocephalus. Then one of them knees Junior in the testicles.

The Andruss brothers walk away laughing, and Rowdy finds Junior lying in a ball on the ground. After checking to make sure Junior’s head is ok, Rowdy concocts a plan for revenge. He and Junior wait outside the Andruss brothers’ tent until the drunk brothers return at 3 a.m. Rowdy sneaks in and shaves off their eyebrows and cuts off their braids. Cutting off an Indian’s braids is one of the worst things you can do to him because those braids have taken him years to grow. Junior loves Rowdy for doing it, even while feeling guilty about loving him for it.

Junior and Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

After the school year ends, Junior’s at home watching TV when there’s a knock on the door and  Rowdy enters. Junior, surprised to see him, says, “I thought you hated me.” Rowdy acknowledges that he does, but that he’s also bored. He asks if Junior wants to shoot some hoops.

After shooting in comfortable silence for a little while, Junior tells Rowdy he should go to Reardan with him in the fall. Rowdy responds by saying he was reading a book about how “old-time” Indians used to be nomadic. Rowdy thinks that Junior is the only true nomad on the reservation, and that’s pretty cool. This makes Junior cry. Rowdy, dry-eyed, is unperturbed. He just tells Junior to make sure to send him postcards as he travels the world.

Junior knows that what Rowdy says is true: he’s a nomad. Junior hopes that, someday, his tribe will forgive him for leaving, and that, someday, he’ll forgive himself.

Junior and Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian play a game of one-on-one. They play for hours, until the moon is high in the sky, and they don’t keep score.

Who Is Rowdy in The Absolutely True Diary?

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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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