Friday, March 7, 2014

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 

Author:  Sherman Alexie
Art By:  Ellen Forney
National Book Award and Odyssey Award Winner  
Published:  2007, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers  

"I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists.  And the tribe of teenage boys. And the tribe of small-town kids. And the tribe of Pacific Northwesterners. And the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers. And the tribe of poverty. And the tribe of funeral-goers. And the tribe of beloved sons. And the tribe of boys who really missed their best friends. It was a huge realization. And that's when I knew that I was going to be okay. ” 
― Sherman AlexieThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I have never listened to an audio book that was not a picture book and used for my Kindergarten listening center.  So listening to this Odyssey Award book on CD was challenging for me at first.  The voice at first was difficult for me to get used to and not something that I thought I was going to like but in the end I found I was sad when it was over.  The book made me laugh out loud and feel sorrow for not only the main character but the Spokane Indians living on the reservation.  The book which is said to be partially autobiographical is written in first person and it makes you feel like you are right there along with the protagonist Arnold Junior Spirit living his life with him. It is also interesting because it is narrated by the author Sherman Alexie himself.

Arnold Junior Spirit is a 14 year Spokane Indian that lives on the reservation.  He was born with "water on the brain" and had surgery when he was just a baby that he was not expected to live from.  He was left with many difficulties as a result including some brain damage.  This leads him to being made fun of and beaten up on a regular basis by his fellow classmates and reservation Indians.  The only people that do not treat him badly are his family and his best friend Rowdy.  With encouragement from one of his reservation teachers he decides to leave the reservation and go to an all white small country school in the town nearby.  This makes him not only an outsider in his new school but also hated by those on the reservation for leaving them behind, including Rowdy. This hatred is brought about greatly in the book including when Arnold's new basketball team goes to play his old reservation school.  All the reservation people old and new treat Arnold bad and he leaves the game early in an ambulance with a concussion and a few stitches to his head.
He starts his new school and at first feels like it was a mistake.  No one notices him and they make fun of him here too.  Arnold, however, sticks up for himself and the new white students start to respect him because he stood up to them and also because he makes friends with a popular girl and in the end become his friends.  He even gets a somewhat girlfriend with a popular girl named Penelope.   They see that he is a genuine person and stop judging him by his ethnicity.  Alexie's story takes you through Arnold's ups and downs on the reservation and off. Arnold struggles with the death of several family members all at the hands of alcohol.  He sees the amount of drinking that goes on with everyone around him on the reservation and he doesn't understand it.  He overcomes and crushes his friends spirits as he beats them in a basketball game, which he thought he wanted but after seeing their disappointment he is ashamed of taking something away from them.  In the end he is happy with his decision and is proud of himself  even though people call him white on the inside.  He and his friend Rowdy also reconcile and Rowdy says that he thinks Arnold is a nomadic Indian like the old days.  He is set to go where ever he needs to go to live but Rowdy is not.  They decide to stay in touch no matter where their lives take them.

I really enjoyed this book and like it even more after I watched a video with author Sherman Alexie detailing how much was real in his life and how he overcame it to be what he is today.  I think Alexie takes does a great job of showing the struggles that Indians go through to make their life about more than just the reservation but in a way that is interesting.  It also touches on topics such as poverty, alcoholism, violence, death and young sexual thoughts.  The book has many funny parts though and Alexie's humor shows through even through the tough subjects that are addressed.  It is also a great story over overcoming the life that has been one has been given and making your life your own.  The story made me think about the discrimination and hatred that happens with Indians but also about how they stick together and how they have reverse discrimination.  The Indian people are very strong willed, I know this as I have a grandfather who is Indian, but they are also very stuck in their ways.   It also made me sad that so many reservation Indians still to this day do not see that they can better themselves and feel stuck on the reservation.  Because Alexie writes about his own struggle and what he actually experienced growing up, I think it makes it more real and brings light the truth around reservation life.

Because I listened to the audio version, I did not get to experience the pictures in the book.  I did however check out a paperback copy to look at and I think the comic type illustrations add to the plot.  Especially since Arnold talked about loving to draw in the book.

I think this would be controversial for some schools to use because of some of the profanity and discussions in the book.  I do think it is a good story and should be looked at carefully before being shared with students.

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