Julia's Reviews > The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
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Aug 22, 08

Recommended to Julia by: I real all Alexie
Recommended for: students, teachers, parents, people who are or are around adolescents
Read in April, 2008

"It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it.”

So whines high school student and sometime cartoonist Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, who is despondent as his father prepares to shoot Arnold's suffering dog because there is no money to pay for a veterinarian's services. But a math teacher -- whose nose is broken when Arnold, in his frustration, angrily throws his generations-old math book --endeavors to change Arnold's sense of helplessness:

" 'You can't give up. You won't give up. You threw that book in my face because somewhere inside you refuse to give up.'
"I didn't know what he was talking about. Or maybe I just didn't want to know.
"Jeez, it was a lot of pressure to put on a kid. I was carrying the burden of my race, you know? I was going to get a bad back from it.
" 'If you stay on this rez,' Mr. P said, 'they're going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. We're all going to kill you. You can't fight us forever.'
" 'I don't want to fight anybody.' I said.
" 'You've been fighting since you were born,' he said. 'You fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope.'
"I was starting to understand. He was a math teacher. I had to add my hope to somebody else's hope. I had to multiply hope by hope.
" 'Where is hope?' I asked. 'Who has hope?'
" 'Son,' Mr. P said. 'You're going to find more and more hope the farther and farther you walk away from this sad, sad reservation.' "


This novel is a semi-autobiographical tale by Sherman Alexie, written for teen readers, that is in turns wacked-out, funny, heartbreaking, and jubilant. It is the story of an Indian kid who has survived a precarious infancy and is growing up on a reservation outside Spokane. It is a powerful story of friendship between two teenage guys who have grown up together on the reservation. It is the story of Arnold's journey after he is persuaded by the math teacher to escape the rez school and transfer to a high school 22 miles away.

"So what was I doing in Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?"

THE ABSOLUTE TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN portrays Arnold's struggle through that ninth grade school year to succeed at the high school in Reardan, to which he often has to walk and/or hitch. It could be that Arnold's greatest struggle involves the conflict and guilt that comes from living among the Indian kids and grown-ups he's seemingly left behind on the reservation in order to attain that success.

Arnold's humorous and telling drawings (thanks to artist Ellen Forney), which are "taped" into the diary, significantly bolster the book's boy-charm and permit us to see, in a second dimension, Arnold's view of his world.

"My head was so big that little Indian skulls orbited around it. Some of the kids called me Orbit. And other kids just called me Globe. The bullies would pick me up, spin me in circles, put their finger down on my skull, and say, 'I want to go there'."

I loved hanging out in Arnold World! Sherman Alexie and his quirky, in-your-face, first-person tale of contemporary life on and off the reservation are both important and extremely welcome additions to the world of young adult literature.
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