A young cartoonist and the narrator/protagonist of the novel. Junior is a 14-year-old Spokane Indian who decides to go to the mostly white high school in nearby Reardan, Washington in order to have better opportunities in life. His cartoons help him to make sense of his experiences on and off the reservation. They also help him to cope with the untimely deaths of friends and family members. Junior is a good student and, while at Reardan, he discovers he is a strong basketball player.
Junior’s best friend on the reservation. Rowdy is a star basketball player for the Wellpinit high school. He has anger problems and often gets physically violent with Junior and others. He feels betrayed when Junior decides to leave Wellpinit. Junior’s attempt to win back Rowdy’s friendship and trust is one of the central dramas of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
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After graduating from Wellpinit, Mary takes refuge in the Spirit family’s basement. She closes herself off from the world until Junior decides to attend Reardan. Then, all of a sudden, she marries an Indian poker player and moves with him to Montana where the two die in an accidental trailer fire.
An alcoholic who nonetheless does his best for Junior. Despite being unreliable, Junior’s dad often drives Junior the twenty-two miles to and from Reardan, and he does his best, in a flawed way, to care for Junior, Mary, and Junior’s mom. If he had had more opportunity in life, Junior says, Junior’s dad would have been a jazz musician. He plays the saxophone.
The main provider for the Spirit family. Like Junior’s dad, Junior’s mom is an alcoholic, though her alcoholism figures less prominently in the story. She is traumatized by Mary’s death, and makes Junior promise never to drink. Junior says that, if his mother had had better opportunity, she would have been a community college professor.
A well-liked woman who gives Junior good advice. Junior’s grandmother is one of very few Indians Junior knows who never drinks. Junior sees a link between her and the ancient traditions of the Spokane Tribe. Namely, he thinks she is tolerant toward all people, even social outcasts. She helps Junior understand the unwritten rules of the white world at Reardan. After she is struck by a drunk driver on her way home from a powwow, she uses her dying breath to ask her family to forgive the man who killed her.
Junior’s girlfriend. Penelope is beautiful, popular, and, not insignificantly for Junior, white. Junior wonders if he is attracted to her or to her whiteness, and is surprised to discover that Penelope is bulimic. Penelope is supportive of Junior, socially conscious (she raises money for charity), and motivated.
Junior’s best white friend. Gordy is the smartest kid at Reardan. Junior decides to make friends with Gordy after Gordy defends one of Junior’s answers in class against an (incorrect) teacher. Gordy is intellectually gifted but, sometimes, socially tactless.
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Junior’s dad’s best friend. Eugene gives Junior a ride to school once on his motorcycle, impressing Roger and the other Reardan boys. He becomes an EMT and stitches up Junior’s forehead after Junior is injured during the first Reardan vs. Wellpinit basketball game. Eugene is shot in the face by his friend Bobby over who will get the last sip of a bottle of wine.
A senior at Reardan and football/basketball star. Roger insults Junior with racist comments when Junior first arrives at Reardan, but, after Junior socks him in the face for it, Roger respects Junior more and the two gradually become friends.
A white geometry teacher at Wellpinit. Junior hits Mr. P in the face with a geometry textbook after discovering that it is the same book his Mom, Agnes Adams, used thirty years previously. Mr. P, surprising Junior, apologizes for the unequal opportunity given to Indian students, and he advises Junior to get off the reservation.
Junior’s basketball coach. Though Coach never gets a name, he is an important role model for Junior. He visits Junior in the hospital after Rowdy concusses Junior in the first Reardan vs. Wellpinit basketball game.
Thirty-year-old triplets who bully Junior and beat him up at the Spokane powwow.
Penelope’s racist father. Earl makes a number of inappropriate remarks to Junior after discovering that Junior is dating his daughter.
A white billionaire. Ted comes to Junior’s Grandmother’s funeral in order to return a powwow dance outfit he believes belonged to her. Junior’s mom corrects Ted’s mistake, and the tribe laughs him off the reservation.
Junior’s first crush.
Junior’s geology teacher. Mr. Dodge argues petrified wood is wood, and Junior corrects him that the wood has been entirely replaced by minerals.
Junior’s homeroom teacher.
Junior’s history teacher.
Guidance counselor who tells Junior about Mary’s death.