Bruce Barcott of The New York Times said of the novel in a 2007 review, "For 15 years now, Sherman Alexie has explored the struggle to survive between the grinding plates of the Indian and white worlds. He's done it through various characters and genres, but The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may be his best work yet. Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting after school for a ride home."
The New York Times opined that this was Alexie's "first foray into the young adult genre, and it took him only one book to master it." The San Francisco chronicle praised it as "[a] great book full of pain, but luckily, the pain is spiked with joy and humor."
Reviewers also commented on Alexie's treatment of difficult issues. Delia Santos, a publisher for the civilrights.org page, noted "Alexie fuses words and images to depict the difficult journey many Native Americans face. ... Although Junior is a young adult, he must face the reality of living in utter poverty, contend with the discrimination of those outside of the reservation, cope with a community and a family ravaged and often killed by alcoholism, break cultural barriers at an all-White high school, and maintain the perseverance needed to hope and work for a better future." As Andrew Fersch, a publisher for Vail Daily, commented, “most folks block out most of their teenage memory, [while] Alexie embraced it with humor."
Alexie won three major "year's best" awards for The Diary, and a California award that annually covers the last four years.
- 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature
- 2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Fiction and Poetry
- 2009 Odyssey Award as the year's "best audiobook for children or young adults", read by Alexie (Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC, 2008, ISBN 1-4361-2490-5).
- 2010 California Young Reader Medal, Young Adult Book (eligible to win once during its first four years)
The Diary was also named to several annual lists including three by the library industry.
- "Best Books of 2007", School Library Journal
- 2008 "Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults", Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)
- "2009 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults", YALSA