The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Study Guide

Sherman Alexie

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Chapter 27 : Because Russian Guys Aren't Always Geniuses | Summary



Junior reflects on the 42 funerals he's been to at age 14. The deaths are "really the biggest difference between Indians and white people." The saddest part, he thinks, is how most of the deaths have been alcohol related. He disagrees with Leo Tolstoy's quote, "Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Native American families, he believes, are all unhappy because of the booze.

That morning Junior is called to the guidance office. The guidance counselor, Miss Warren, starts crying and hugs Junior. She tells him his sister's dead. At first Junior doesn't believe her. He's put off by her kindness.

While Junior waits for his dad in the snow, he fears his dad has been in an accident. He laughs with hysterical relief when Dad arrives safely and tells him how Mary died. She was drunk after a party in her trailer and fell asleep. A guest left a hot plate on, and the trailer burned down. Junior laughs again when he learns Mary was too drunk to feel pain. He then falls asleep and dreams about cantaloupe, which his sister loved.

Junior and his dad cry and express their love for each other. At their house, where several relatives are gathered, Mom slaps Junior and tells him never to drink or to leave her. Junior goes through Mary's wake and funeral numb with grief. As he runs away from her coffin, he runs into Rowdy, who had been watching the burial. Rowdy tries to punch Junior and misses, and Junior laughs. An angry Rowdy then blames Junior for Mary's death, and Junior realizes he's responsible for Mary leaving the reservation, which led to her death. Rowdy screams that he hates Junior and runs off.

The next day Junior goes back to school. His family is still gathered at the house, but he knows they'll be drinking, and he doesn't want to watch or participate. At Reardan his classmates are sympathetic to his loss. Junior's struck by how much they care. But his world has exploded, and he doesn't know what to say or how to act.


Did Junior's exodus, his desire to "spend my life with white people," lead to Mary's death? It's hard to say. Mary was motivated to take risks because Junior took risks. Though her new life took a tragic turn no one expected, Junior knows the reservation culture of heavy drinking caught up with her. Still, he blames himself, and Rowdy blames him.

His laughter throughout the chapter, partly a symptom of shock, again shows laughter and tears go together. Random memories often surface in times of grief—stories or sensations. Junior's taste of cantaloupe makes him remember Mary and a brush with death he had when he was younger. From his surgery at six weeks, death has been closer to him than it is to most 14-year-olds. In the face of death, SATs and scholarships don't matter much. The academia he used to value now seems like a waste of time.

Yet, he returns to school, determined to never give up. Even as he regrets fleeing the reservation, Junior knows he was right to do so. The drinking is already taking a toll on his well being, though he's not drinking himself. But Mary's death puts pressure on Junior, as the only surviving child, to stay— particularly with his grieving, broken mother. Junior's facing a lot of choices. And each one is important.

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