Summary of “How to Fight Monsters”:
Junior’s father drops Junior off at Reardan for his first day of school and reminds him that the white students are not better than him. Junior thinks to himself that both father and son know that this is not true and wonders if coming to Reardan was the right choice. As he approaches his new school, Junior is filled with the desire to run away, but he knows that the other Indians will bully him mercilessly if he returns to Wellpinit. They already think he is a traitor, but then they will know he is a coward. Junior reluctantly enters Reardan and meets blonde-haired Penelope who makes fun of his name.
Junior experiences bullying at Reardan, though it is not the same as what he used to endure on the reservation. The Indians on the reservation beat him up physically. At Reardan, though, the white students are verbally abusive. They use racial slurs to belittle Junior. One student, Roger, tells Junior a racist joke to make him uncomfortable. Junior retaliates and punches Roger in the face. Instead of hitting Junior back, Roger stares at Junior in disbelief, calls him an animal, and walks away. Junior is confused; he does not understand why Roger did not fight him.
Summary of “Grandmother Gives Me Some Advice”:
After his interaction with Roger, Junior worries that the larger boy will come after him and beat him badly. He wishes he was still friends with Rowdy because a fight between Rowdy and Roger would be epic. He shares his fears with Grandmother Spirit, who says that Roger was only acting like an alpha male trying to pick on the new, weak student. She believes that Roger was only trying to see how far Junior could be pushed. Since Junior retaliated, Roger knows that Junior can stand up for himself.
The next morning, Junior’s parents do not have enough money for gas, so Junior asks his father’s friend Eugene for a ride to school. The other students are impressed when they see Junior arriving at school on the back of Eugene’s motorcycle. Eugene mentions that he is proud of Junior for being brave enough to attend an all-white school. As Junior approaches the school, Roger asks him about Eugene. The former bully seems to have a new-found respect for Junior. Feeling confident for once, Junior tries to talk to Penelope, but she pretends not to know him.
Summary of “Tears of a Clown”:
Junior reminisces about Dawn, an Indian girl on his reservation that he fell in love with when he was twelve. One night, he told Rowdy that he loved Dawn. Rowdy pretended not to hear. Junior repeated himself, and Rowdy dismissed his feelings. This made Junior cry, which made Rowdy even more agitated. Junior made Rowdy promise not to tell anyone about him crying over Dawn, and Rowdy had always kept his promise.
Summary of “Halloween”:
Junior dresses up as a homeless person for Halloween, which is a joke to him because his clothes always make him look homeless. He notices that Penelope is also dressed up like a homeless person, so he comments on their similar costumes. Penelope tells Junior that she is dressing up to protest the treatment of the homeless.
In order to forge a connection with Penelope, Junior makes up a similar story. He says that he has dressed up as a homeless person to protest the treatment of the homeless Indian population. Once he finds out that she is trick-or-treating for spare change to donate to the cause, he says that he is going to do the same thing and suggests that they combine their efforts.
Junior goes trick-or-treating on the reservation and raises ten dollars. He is proud of himself. However, a group of trick-or-treaters in Frankenstein monster masks beat Junior up, spit on him, and steal the money. The next day, Junior tells Penelope about the attack and shows her his bruises. She feels sorry for him and says she will still put his name on her donation. Junior believes that this interaction will make Penelope treat him differently, but she still ignores him most of the time.
One of the most destructive effects of racism is when the victims of it start to believe what people say about them. This is called internalized racism. Like many other Indians in The Absolutely True Diary, Junior exhibits internalized racism numerous times throughout the novel. When he arrives at Reardan for his first day, Junior comments that the white students “stare at [him] like [he] was Bigfoot or a UFO” (56). This simile shows that Junior can sense how students perceive him: they think of him as as strange, threatening, and imposing. They do not understand why an Indian is attending their school, and as a result, they alienate him. He soon comes to believe he deserves this.
By the end of “How to Fight Monsters,” Junior returns to this motif of alienation by saying, “I was a freaky alien” (66). The first time he calls himself an alien being, he is referring to the way the other students see him. Now, though, he has internalized their judgment and is calling himself an alien. He feels uncomfortable around the white students and comes to believe that he is an outsider rather than realizing that the white students are being closed-minded towards a him just because he is different from them.
In this same vein, Junior puts up with a great deal of abuse at the beginning of his school year. His classmates are constantly taunting him with racial slurs and making comments about his background and his race. This all chips away at Junior’s spirit. Junior ignores the bullies because he does not want to pick a fight with them, but Roger's comment pushes him over the edge. As soon as Junior punches Roger, though, Roger calls Junior an animal. This shows that Roger is surprised to learn that his comments do have a tangible effect on Junior; it is likely that Roger has never been on the receiving end of such hurtful words. Roger is shocked that his words agitate Junior to the point of becoming violent. Later, Roger seems to be impressed at Junior's ability to stand up for himself.
Junior has been bullied his whole life. He knows to expect the pain and bruising that comes from being punched and kicked. Yet when the trick-or-treaters spit on him, he feels insignificant. He knows that the bullies want to remind him that he is a traitor, but feeling belittled by his tribesmen is hard for Junior to handle. On the other hand, Junior finds stalwart sources of support in Eugene, his grandmother, and his father, all of whom give him the strength to keep pushing forward. Junior looks up to Eugene even though Eugene is a drunk, and Eugene's comments help Junior know that he has made the right choice in attending Reardan.