Summary: My Final Freshman Year Report Card
This section is a cartoon of Junior’s report card. Junior gets A’s in English, Geometry, P.E. and Computer Programming, an A- in history, a B+ in Geology and a B- in Woodshop.
Junior and Junior’s mom and dad go to the cemetery to clean graves. They clean Grandmother Spirit’s, Eugene’s, and Mary’s graves, and they have a picnic. Junior’s dad brings his saxophone. He tells his family that the world is all about love and death. Junior’s mother tells Junior she is proud of him. Junior cries for Mary, but he realizes he is also crying for his tribe. Junior says that somehow Native Americans have forgotten that reservations were meant to be death camps. Then, Junior lists the other tribes that he feels he is a member of. These other tribes include the tribe of cartoonists, of chronic masturbators, of poor people, and of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers. Junior says the realization that he is a part of these larger groups is hugely important for him. It reminds him that he is okay, but it also reminds him of those who aren’t okay. He thinks of Rowdy and misses him.
Summary: Talking About Turtles
Junior describes the reservation. It’s filled with ponderosa pine trees. Some of the trees are ninety feet tall and 300 years old. One tree past Turtle Lake is the tallest, at least 150 feet tall. He remembers how, when he and Rowdy were ten, they climbed that tree. One hot summer day, Rowdy pressures Junior to go swimming at Turtle Lake. Junior says no one has been able to measure the depth of Turtle Lake, not even scientists with a small submarine. Once, Junior’s dad told him that, as a kid, he watched a horse, nicknamed Stupid Horse, drown in Turtle Lake. A few weeks later Stupid Horse washed up on the shore of Benjamin Lake, ten miles away. Everyone thought someone moved the carcass as a prank. Some people took the horse to the dump and burned it. Then, a few weeks after they burned the body, Turtle Lake caught on fire. People stayed away from Turtle Lake for a few days, then they found Stupid Horse washed up on shore again. Before long, people forgot and started swimming in Turtle Lake again.
On the way to swim in Turtle Lake, Junior points out the big tree. Rowdy says they should climb it. They climb almost to the very top, as far as the branches can support their weight, and they see the whole reservation. Rowdy let out a big fart, and the boys climb back down the tree. They never go swimming. Junior says he can’t believe he survived his first year at Reardan. He misses Penelope. Gordy, he says, is going to stay with him for a week on the rez over the summer. Roger has left for Eastern Washington University on a football scholarship. Then, Junior’s reminiscences are interrupted. Rowdy shows up at Junior’s house. Junior says he thought Rowdy hated him. Rowdy says he does, but he is bored. The two go to play one-on-one. Junior invites Rowdy to come to Reardan the next year. Rowdy says he won’t, but he was reading a book about how Native Americans used to be nomadic—they used to move from place to place without settling. Rowdy says Junior is the only nomadic Native American left on the rez. Junior cries, and the two play one-on-one for hours. They don’t keep score.
Junior is proud of his freshman year report card, and for good reason. Not only are the academic standards at Reardan higher than those at the reservation schools, Junior has done well despite being forced to miss classes because of deaths, funerals, and many other unforeseen incidents. He manages to get mostly As, his lowest grade is a B-. Just as Junior’s report card gives some positive closure to his first challenging year at Reardan, Junior and Junior’s parents’ visit to the cemetery marks a turning point in the family’s grieving process. The family is beginning to heal. Junior takes these moments of closure as a chance to reflect on the way that his people and their culture have been oppressed by American society at large. In the light of the original purpose of reservations—to isolate and disempower native groups—Junior begins to wonder if his tribe has turned its back not on him, but on itself. Junior also asserts his freedom and individuality by listing the other tribes, the other communities, to which he feels he belongs. Some of them are serious—such as the tribe of people below the poverty line—other are more comical—like the tribe of people who like tortilla chips and salsa. Humor helps Junior heal.
In the final chapter of The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian, Junior continues to draw parallels between his modern life on the reservation and the myths and traditions Spokane Native Americans shared in days gone by. Turtle Lake is unfathomable, Junior claims. It can’t be gotten to the bottom of. In this sense, Turtle Lakes represents the complexity, not just of life on the Spokane Reservation or of the Spokane people, but of human life everywhere. This unfathomable depth contains an element of horror. Life’s mysteries cannot be fully grasped. Not even scientists have the answers. Junior’s dad’s story about Stupid Horse might be dismissed as a tall tale. But mythic traditions and even their contemporary relative, urban legends, replace scientific proofs with poetic logic—a way of organizing events that places an emphasis on the way that they feel. At least for Junior, the story is frightening and moving. It raises questions of transience—the passing of time—and the fragility of memory. Do people forget the story of Stupid Horse in the same way that, according to Junior, they have forgotten tolerance and other positive elements of Native American culture?
There is balance and reciprocity in the Stupid Horse story. Stupid Horse is set on fire and Turtle Lake burns. Stupid Horse decomposes, and people forget his story. In the tree-climbing story, there is a similar kind of logic. Junior and Rowdy abandon the dark depths of Turtle Lake and its mysteries for another day. Instead of descending, they climb high above the reservation, almost to the very top of the largest tree. Is this a precursor of their eventual escape out of the reservation and into a world of greater opportunities? Will Rowdy be able to overcome the difficulties that face him and escape the reservation with Junior? Such questions are left unresolved even as the novel begins to come to a close. Junior takes stock of his first year of high school at Reardan, a year full of pain and loss, but also of new friendships and new opportunities. The novel concludes on an optimistic note. Rowdy may still be unwilling to acknowledge that he want to be friends with Junior, but the two hang out together for the first time since Junior left the reservation. This is a crucial step toward forgiveness and renewal. Life goes on, and, in the struggle to live, there is no score to keep.