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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Who is Junior’s sister in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? What’s her role in the story, and how does she affect Junior?
In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior’s sister runs away early on, and pursues a life separate from the rest of the family. Junior’s sister in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian shows him that it’s possible to pursue your dreams, even though her life ends tragically.
Find out more about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior’s sister, and their life.
In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Junior’s Sister Leaves
One day, Junior comes home from school to find his mother crying. Junior’s older sister, Mary, has gotten married to a Flathead Indian she’s just met at the casino and has moved to Montana. No one in Junior’s family has ever left the Spokane Reservation for good. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior’s sister is pursuing a dream.
At first, Junior’s worried about his sister. But then he realizes that his sister is trying to live her dreams. In high school, she’s dreamed of being a professional writer, but after graduation, she’d moved into the basement, stopped writing, and had become a recluse. Junior sees that, now, she’s living the romance novel she always wanted to write. The move proves to Junior that Mary’s spirit hadn’t died.
Junior’s Sister Mary
Junior says the biggest difference between white people and Indians is the number of funerals they attend in their lifetimes. In Junior’s 14 years, he’s attended 42 funerals. 90% of the deaths were the result of alcohol.
One morning, the Reardan counselor pulls Junior out of chemistry class. When Junior asks her what’s wrong, she starts to cry. She tells Junior that his sister has passed away.
Junior refuses to accept this. When the counselor repeats that Mary is gone, Junior says, “I know…She lives in Montana now.” He knows this is idiotic, but he tells himself that if he doesn’t accept the truth, maybe it won’t be true. But he can no longer pretend when the counselor clarifies, “No, she’s dead.”
Junior runs out into the snow to wait for his father, who’s on his way to pick Junior up. Junior’s suddenly hit by the premonition that his father is going to crash because the roads are icy. The longer Junior waits, the more terrified he becomes. After a half hour, he’s convinced that his father has also died.
Junior’s on the verge of a breakdown when his father pulls up. Junior’s so relieved his father is alive that he starts to laugh, and he doesn’t stop laughing until they reach the border of the rez. Finally calmer, Junior asks his father how Mary died. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior’s sister died in a fire.
His dad tells him that Mary and her husband had had a party in their trailer. They passed out in the back, and one of the guests accidentally left a hot plate on, which eventually burned the trailer down.
Junior’s dad tries to console him by telling him that she was so drunk she didn’t even wake up. Junior doesn’t find it comforting that his sister was “too freaking drunk to feel any pain when she burned to death.” The absurdity of the situation sets him off again, and he laughs uncontrollably while his dad silently drives him home.
When they’ve parked, Junior’s dad starts to cry. He tells Junior he loves him, something he hardly ever says. They go into the house, which is full of dozens of family members eating their food. Junior’s mother is curled up on the couch, and Junior knows that she’s “now broken and that she’ll always be broken.” She pulls Junior to her and tells him that he better not ever have a drink of alcohol. Before he can respond, she slaps him. Then she slaps him again, hard, two more times. He promises not to drink, and she stops slapping him, but she doesn’t let him go. She cries and holds him like a baby for hours, soaking his hair and clothing with tears.
The Funeral of Junior’s Sister in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
After Mary’s coffin is lowered at the funeral, Junior can’t stand to stick around any longer. He runs toward the forest, hoping to never be found, but he runs straight into Rowdy, who’s been watching the burial from a hiding spot. Rowdy’s crying. When Junior tells him it’s okay to cry and touches his shoulder, Rowdy swings at him, but he misses. When Junior taunts him for missing, Rowdy claims he missed on purpose, but Junior retorts that he missed because he can’t see through his tears. Rowdy never misses a punch, and rarely cries—once again, the whole situation seems so absurd to Junior that he starts to laugh uncontrollably. This makes Rowdy cry harder because he thinks Junior is laughing at him.
Junior doesn’t want to laugh. He wants to hug Rowdy. He feels like he needs Rowdy, and his behavior is pushing Rowdy away, but he can’t stop laughing.
Through his tears, Rowdy accuses Junior of killing Mary. He says she’s dead because Junior left the reservation. This makes Junior stop laughing. In fact, he believes he may never laugh again. Rowdy’s right. Mary only got married and left because Junior had already left the rez, and she couldn’t let him one-up her. Rowdy screams “I hate you!” three times, then runs out of the forest.
Junior doesn’t want to stay home from school the next day because staying home from school means spending the day with all his cousins, who will be drunk and unhappy. At school, his classmates hug him and gently punch his shoulder, silently communicating their sympathy. After a rough start, they now care about him. And Junior cares about them.
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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