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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie's debut young adult novel which explores Indian identity

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Smart and funny with a purpose

  • Jul 20, 2010

I love this book!  I think it is smart and funny, while also allowing for the exploration of weighty and tough racial identity issues.  Graphics interspersed throughout the novel are loved by young readers and add loads of humor.  Teens love it and adults enjoy it too!  For those interested, here's a quick summary.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian relates the struggle of a ninth grade boy to navigate two cultures and identities.  The protagonist, known as Junior on the reservation and Arnold at his predominantly white high school, grows up on “the rez,” and finds himself a constant target of ridicule and violence.  Aside from his solitary friend, Rowdy, Junior feels alone and unwanted, even at times, by his dysfunctional mother and father.  As a child, Junior suffered from hydrocephalous and seizures, causing him to be ridiculed and called “retard.”  After a surprising incident during his first day of high school math class, his teacher suggests that Junior leave the reservation in order to save himself.  He tells him to go to a place where people still have hope; Junior reasons that white people have the most hope and decides to transfer to an all-white school twenty-two miles away.  Once there, he finds that he now faces a new isolation, both cultural and racial.  In addition to being the victim of a number of racist remarks and attitudes, he is also unsure of the rules of social interaction.  However, he catches on quickly and soon becomes integrated into the new school, dating a popular freshman girl, finding an academic ally in the school nerd, and becoming a strong member of the varsity basketball team.  Regardless, his “white persona” feels foreign to him, and he begins to think of himself as having two distinct identities, one at school and one on the rez.  Sadly, his choice to leave the reservation and assimilate into white culture results in resentment from his Native American community.  In fact, all but a few people on the reservation turn against him, including his best friend, Rowdy, a devastating loss for Arnold.  When the two schools face-off in basketball, nearly the entire reservation verbally torments Arnold, he is brutally fouled by Rowdy, ends up in the hospital, and his team experiences a devastating loss.  When the teams meet for a second time, the reservation school is defeated and after momentary joy, Arnold realizes he has beaten himself in defeating his former classmates.  This moment epitomizes his struggle to leave behind a life without potential as he desperately tries to remain connected to his culture and his identity.  The story concludes with the reuniting of Rowdy and Junior over the summer months, suggesting hope for Arnold Junior to be part of both the white and Indian worlds.  Significantly, there is no final resolution, but rather an acceptance of his life’s duality, a racial and cultural double consciousness.  

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More The Absolutely True Diary of a... reviews
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2010
a fantastic novel
Quick Tip by . June 19, 2010
review by . June 18, 2010
This is actually not Alexie's first novel, but his first novel for young adults. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of a Spokane Indian boy named Arnold, and his decision to attend a high school off the Reservation. Alternating between tragedy and comedy, it details his experiences with tribal and family life and with school.                 Arnold’s narrative details the despair and beauty of living …
review by . June 24, 2009
Pros: Different; humorous; emotional; appealing to many ages and types; true-to-life     Cons: May not be totally appealing or appropriate for younger tweens or children     The Bottom Line: A funny, emotional story... the bottom lines absolutely, truly, loved this diary of a part-time Indian     My mother, a high school librarian and book-lover, is always recommending books to me.  She pushed me to find Absolutely True Diary …
review by . December 28, 2008
I wish it was possible to give a book six stars on Amazon. Or ten stars. Or a hundred stars. Not for just any book, mind you; only for those that pack such emotional wallop, humor, and writing into them that the usual scale just doesn't do them justice. The sort of book like the young adult novel The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie that just makes you immediately realize this book deserves way more than just five stars.    Arnold (also known as Junior), …
review by . December 04, 2008
Junior is just another unlucky kid living on an Indian reservation, but unfortunately, he's even unluckier than most. He was born with brain damage and a strangely disproportioned body, which causes him to be alternately beat up and ridiculed by all the other kids on the reservation except his only friend Rowdy. Junior might be smart and a good artist, but growing up in poverty and surrounded by alcoholics and broken dreams makes him believe that he's destine to the same life he's always had. But …
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Rebecca K Nash ()
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I am a middle school Language Arts teacher who is passionate about books!
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Starred Review.Grade 7–10—Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie's first young adult novel is a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old was born with water on the brain, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw. He says, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one's community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist's grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The many characters, on and off the rez, with whom he has dealings are portrayed with compassion and verve, particularly the adults in his extended family. Forney's simple pencil cartoons fit perfectly within the story and reflect the burgeoning artist within Junior. Reluctant readers can even skim the pictures and construct their own story based exclusively on Forney's illustrations. The teen's determination to both improve himself and ...
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Books, Cafe Libri, Young Adult Books, Teen Books, Native Americans, Diary Novels, Sherman Alexie, Native American Fiction


ISBN-10: 0316013684
ISBN-13: 978-0316013680
Author: Sherman Alexie
Genre: Children's Chapter Books
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers
Date Published: September 12, 2007
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