The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Bibliographic Data:

Alexie, Sherman. (2007). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little Brown and Company. Print.

Book Summary:

Indian Reservations are not the same as they used to be.  In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie gives a modern day view of life of the rez.  Set through the eyes of a teenage boy growing up on an Indian reservation, Alexie humorously describes the challenges of life as a modern day Indian.  Hindered by physical affects from a brain defect as a child, the main character, Junior, has an especially hard life.  He is constantly picked on by his friends.  He is an outcast in a community of outcasts.  However, Junior maintains a fairly optimistic attitude, despite all the negative in his world. After an outburst at school over antiquated textbooks, Junior is inspired by a teacher to dream big, to have hope, to make something of himself.   He should leave the dead-end reservation and go to school in a community with hope for the future.  Junior anxiously decides he deserves better than a future of drunken poverty and agrees to enroll in the nearby Reardon High School.  As Junior, now known by his given name, Arnold Spirit, struggles to find his place among his white classmates, he expects to be bullied just as he was on the rez.  However, Arnold is pleasantly surprised by the tolerance from his white classmates.  While not fully a part of the Reardon High community and at the same time shunned by his old friends on the rez, Arnold is caught in limbo.  His future depends on Reardon High School, but can he move on without isolating his friends, family and culture back at the rez who defines him? Stuck between a place full of new hope and a familiar home, full of dead ends.  It is a coming of age story, a story of true friendship, a story of hope.

Critical Analysis:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian screams young adult.  Written in colloquial teenage language, this book even draws back adult readers to their teenage years.  Rightful winner of the 2007 National Book Award, this book humorously addresses the most pertinent struggles in a teenager’s life while offering a rare insight to life on a modern day Indian reservation.  Everything about the main character, Arnold, is believable. He struggles with one of the most common teenage challenges, acceptance.  Not only does he obsess over with his physical appearance and impaired capabilities, Arnold wonders where he fits in among two different cultures.  Using pictures to further describe the events of his life, Arnold addresses taboo topics that young adults face but adults ignore.  The illustrations aptly portrays the emotions of a young adult, and they do so in a jovial  way that makes the reader comfortable.  Parents should be aware that the book addresses mature topics such as drinking, gambling, masturbation and suicide. However, all older young adults will eventually need to address these topics as they are part of our modern day world and this book offers a light-hearted approach that can be the beginning of parent and teen conversations.

Activity Related to the Book:

Pictorial Journal:

Due to his tendency to stutter, Arnold regularly expressed himself through drawing.  Using teacher generated prompts, students will spend two weeks creating a journal using pictures only. Students may use hand-drawn images or may collect images from other sources and paste into the journal.  Journals can be kept in a paper or digital journal.  Sample prompts include:

  • Describe a real made-up dream or nightmare.
  • Think of your favorite childhood toy that you no longer have.  Describe the life of the toy from your first experience to today.
  • Write out the best or the worst day of your life.
  • Describe someone who is a hero to you and explain why.

At the end of two weeks, in a small group discussion, students will reflect on the ease or challenges of portraying their feelings using only images.

Resources Related to the THEME of the book:

Resource 1: Spiral of Fire

In this film, Howe visits her home reservation in North Carolina.  Seeing a video representation of situations similar to those in the book will help students relate to Junior.

Howe, LeAnne (author). (2006). Spiral of Fire [Motion Picture]. United States: PBS.

Resource 2: Map of Indian Reservations in the Continental US
Many students are far removed from Indian reservations.  This map shows the vast number of reservations in our country.  It will help students all across the United States identify with reservations that are local to their area.

(n.d.). Map of Indian Reservations in the Continental US. Retrieved on July 6, 2015 from http://www.nps.gov/nagpra/DOCUMENTS/ResMAP.HTM

Resource 3: Honor the Treaties

Not many people know what life on a modern day reservation is like today. Although Arnold uses humor to address some of the issues, this video faces the violence and poverty head on.  Keeping in mind the fact that reservations were essentially established as prison camps for Native Americans, this video helps students gain a realistic picture of the harsh life on modern day Indian reservations.

Becker, Eric (director). (2012). Honor the Treaties [Motion Picture]. United States: Vimeo.

Published Review:

Barcott, Bruce. (2007) Off the RezRetrieved on July 6, 2015 from: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/books/review/Barcott3-t.html?_r=0

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