The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Summary and Analysis of “Hunger Pains,” “Rowdy Gives Me Advice About Love,” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” “Don’t Trust Your Computer,” and “My Sister Writes Me a Letter”

Summary of “Hunger Pains”:

Junior is walking to class when he hears retching noises coming from the girl’s restroom. He asks the mystery girl if he can help, but she refuses. Junior waits until the girl walks out of the bathroom; it happens to be Penelope. She is chewing gum, but Junior can still smell vomit on her breath. Junior accuses her of being anorexic. Penelope proudly admits that she’s actually a bulimic. Junior thinks that she sounds like his father when he is trying to downplay his alcoholism. Junior tries to be supportive and tells Penelope not to give up. Penelope breaks down and begins crying. She tells Junior that she feels constantly pressured to be strong because she is pretty and popular, and that she is never allowed to feel vulnerable.

After that conversation, Penelope and Junior develop a close friendship. All of Reardan is confused by Penelope’s sudden interest in Junior, but Junior is happy to finally be on Penelope’s radar. However, part of Junior feels like Penelope is only feigning interest in him as an act of rebellion against her racist, controlling father. Nevertheless, all the new-found attention has made Junior seem like a viable romantic interest, and other girls begin to develop crushes on him.

Summary of “Rowdy Gives Me Advice About Love”:

Even though Junior is enjoying his newly acquired popularity, he is still inexperienced when it comes to love. He sends Rowdy an email and asks what to do about being in love with a white girl. Rowdy immediately responds with harsh words; he does not understand why all Indians chase after white girlfriends as if they are “bowling trophies” (115).

Later, Junior asks Gordy what he should do about being in love with Penelope. Gordy responds a few days later after doing a Google search. He has found an article about a young white girl who went missing in Mexico that past summer. He also says that there were over 200 Mexican girls who went missing from the same location, yet none of them received any media attention. According to the article, the media coverage of the case has been racially biased because it portrays white girls as “damsels in distress”” and “privileged” (116). Gordy then says that Junior's being in love with a white girl is racist because he is wrongfully idolizing her.

Summary of “Dance, Dance, Dance”:

Junior often thinks of himself as half Indian and half white. At home, his community sees him as white. However, when he is at school, his peers see him as Indian. His white classmates believe that all Indians are wealthy because they live off government handouts and profits from the casinos. Junior knows the truth, though; his family barely scrapes together enough money to keep Junior in school because the reservation is in debt and nobody receives any money from the government.

As the winter dance approaches, Junior asks Penelope to be his date. He has no way of picking her up, so he arranges to meet her at the gym. He shows up wearing his father’s suit. He thinks Penelope will make fun of him, but she thinks the style is cool and retro. Afterwards, Junior is walking Penelope to her father’s car when a group of students invites them to go out for pancakes. Junior only has five dollars and knows he cannot pay for Penelope’s food, but he does not want anyone to know he is poor. Regardless, he goes with Roger, Penelope, and the rest of their friends to the diner in Spokane. 

At the diner, Junior tries to convince Roger that he has forgotten his wallet at home. Roger is kind and lends him forty dollars. Penelope later asks Junior if he’s poor, and Junior finally admits to her that he often hitchhikes to and from school. Penelope begins to cry upon hearing about Junior’s situation. She runs to Roger and tells him that Junior needs a ride home. Roger generously gives Junior a ride and drives him to and from school many times after that. Junior expresses how good it feels to have friends who care about him.

Summary of “Don’t Trust Your Computer”:

Junior often misses Rowdy. One day, he emails Rowdy a picture of his smiling face. A few minutes later, Rowdy responds with a photo of his bare butt. Gordy sees the photo and asks about it, and Junior tells Gordy about his deteriorating friendship with Rowdy. He admits that people on the reservation refer to him as an apple because he looks “red” on the outside but is actually “white” on the inside (132).

Summary of “My Sister Writes Me a Letter”:

Junior receives a hand-written letter from Mary. She still has not found a job, and she wonders how she is supposed to get experience if nobody will give her a chance. With all her free time, though, she has started writing her memoirs. She also includes a photo of her new house, which is a trailer. Mary believes that it is beautiful, though, and she is extremely proud of her new life.


Junior is able to support Penelope as she struggles with bulimia because he has been surrounded by addicts his entire life. His father does not believe he is an alcoholic, saying “I’m only an alcoholic when I get drunk” (107). Junior is immediately reminded of his father when Penelope tells him, “I’m only bulimic when I throw up” (107). Junior knows that addicts do not see themselves as addicts, which enables him to sympathize with Penelope's plight. In this case, Junior starts to see his worlds collide; there are striking and unexpected similarities between Reardan and the rez. 

When Rowdy refers to white women as “bowling trophies,” he is referring to men of color idolizing white skin as the pinnacle of a woman's beauty. Junior unknowingly confirms Rowdy's observation by describing Penelope’s whiteness in a number of superficial ways, calling her a “work of art” and “the most perfect kind of vanilla dessert cake” (114). Meanwhile, Rowdy believes that Indian men who desire white girlfriends and reject Indian women are betraying their race. 

Gordy actually agrees with Rowdy and believes that Junior is placing Penelope on a pedestal, favoring white, blonde women in the same way that the rest of society and the media do. He thinks Junior is buying into the idea that white girls are inherently more desirable desirable than girls of color. In this way, Junior is still suffering from internalized racism. He sees Penelope’s skin as her defining characteristic and the epitome of beauty while simultaneously believing that he is a lesser person because he has darker skin.

Like Rowdy, many of the people on the reservation see Junior as a traitor. They refer to him as an apple, a metaphor which means he tries to be an Indian ("red") on the outside while he is really white on the inside. Statements like these often alienate Junior even further because it shows that nobody in his community sees him as an Indian anymore. He feels too white to be on the reservation and too Indian to fit in at Reardan. Eventually, the lack of support from people his own age pushes Junior to seek new friendships at Reardan.

Junior comes to realize that the aspects of his personality that he feels ashamed about are actually what make him special to his new friends at Reardan. It is because of Junior's experiences with an alcoholic father that he is finally able to forge a connection with Penelope. He is terrified to wear his father's old suit to the dance, but it everyone thinks it is cool and "retro." On the night of the dance, Junior is desperately trying to hide the fact that he comes from a poor family. However, Penelope figures it out and it actually makes them closer. Furthermore, Roger, who was once Junior’s tormentor, offers Junior money and a ride. These incidents make Junior feel like he can finally be himself around his white peers, without the fear of inciting judgement or teasing.