Sunday, February 28, 2010

40. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. ISBN: 978-0-316-06820-8. Knopf. First Edition, 2006.

Plot Summary
Arnold Spirit, known as Junior, upsets the balance on the Welpinnit Indian Reservation by choosing to get a better education at an all white high school 20 miles away. Junior is tired of the impoverished circumstances of his people, and snaps one day in class when he receives a geometry text book with his mother's name inscribed in the jacket. Arnold wants a better life for himself, but in doing so he loses his best friend Rowdy, and the respect of the Spokane Indians. At his new school, Junior makes friends with the school nerd Gordy, manages to make the varsity basketball team, and even scores a girlfriend along the way. In this coming of age tale, Arnold must discover who he is, what he wants in life, and how to maintain his culture in modern society.

Critical Evaluation

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is a comedic, and heartbreaking look at life on the Welpinitt Indian reservation for a young boy with big dreams. The novel is told from the perspective of a Spokane Indian teenager named junior, who discusses his life through a series of cleverly crafted diary entries, complete with doodles, sketches, and his own personal comedic commentary. The comedic tone of the novel is often interrupted by the harsh realities of reservation life. Junior has to deal with issues like violence, poverty, and alcoholism on a daily basis. He never knows how he is going to get to school or if he is going to have a meal to eat at the end of the day. Alexie weaves these hardships into an outcast character who has nothing but hope to keep him motivated. Junior hopes for a better tomorrow, he wants to see the world, get an education, and become a cartoonist.

Junior displays all of his hopes and tragedies in the pencil and pen artwork of artist Ellen Forney. Forney's simple illustrations capture the essence of teenage life, and add humor to the misfortunes in Junior's story. The themes of overcoming hardship and tragedy will help teens with similar struggles as a means to cope and give inspiration.

Reader's Annotation
Arnold Spirit is the butt of everyone's jokes and fists living on the Welpinitt Indian Reservation. Life gets worse when Arnold decides to get a better education by going to an all white school because his people and best friend feel like he has abandoned them and their culture.

Author Information
Sherman Alexie was born in 1966 and grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He was born with a hydrocephalic brain, which caused seizures throughout his early childhood. Alexie was a voracious reader as a child, was a star basketball player, and transferred to an all white high school to receive a better education. These events in his life inspired his first novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.

Alexie went to the University of Gonzaga on a scholarship, and then later to the University of Washington where he discovered a passion for writing and poetry. Alexie's first published works, The Business of Fancydancing, and I Would Steal Horses, were the start of a career that would blossom into many different outlets. Alexie has gone on to work in film, as a public speaker, and even as a stand up comedian. Alexie Continues to write from his home in Seattle, Washington.

realistic fiction, problem novel

Curriculum Ties
reservation life

Book Talking Ideas
Describe reservation life.
Why does the tribe feel like Arnold is abandoning them?
Discuss the therapeutic nature of keeping a diary.

Reading Level
Grades 8+

Challenge Issues
violence, racism, language

Challenge defense ideas:
1. Make sure you are familiar with your library collection and the book in question.
2. Be familiar with your library collection policy.
3. If possible, speak with the person challenging the material and make sure they feel comfortable. Ask the customer what they disliked or disapproved of in the resource. If they still insist on challenging the material give them instructions on how to file a formal complaint.
4. Research professional reviews that speak to the material's merit, and get input from teen readers on why they found the book important.

Reason For Selection
I have never read a contemporary work of fiction written by a Native American author from the perspective of a Native American teenager. This novel gives readers insight to what life is like for a teenager living on a reservation and the struggle between balancing your culture with success in America.

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