Bibliography: Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. 2007. New York. Little, Brown.
Plot: In Sherman Alexie’s debut Young Adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior is a fourteen-year-old boy living on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Born with hydrocephalus (spinal fluid in the brain), Junior experiences a range of health problems that doctors assured would lead to his death during early childhood. Surviving his childhood, Junior enters adolescence with a lisp and stutter. Bullied by his peers, his best friend Rowdy protects him. Rowdy spends most of his time at Junior’s home—a safe haven from his abusive family.
Angered by the abuse, poverty, alcoholism, and death on reservation, Junior transfers to Reardan High School—a middle-class suburb in a predominately white neighborhood. This decision causes strife with his family and best friend Rowdy. Junior starts school as “Arnold,” his birth name. Arnold works hard to pass as middle-class at his new high school, but his crush Penelope learns his secret. In turn, Junior learns of Penelope’s devastating secret.
As Junior jumps from his home in Wellpinit and school in Reardan, he his “part-time Indian” identity emerges. He joins Reardan’s basketball team, makes new friends, and learns the joy of reading. But through a shocking series of loss, he learns to overcome grief and navigates his new identity.
Critical Analysis: The specific diction Alexie uses helps to describe the stereotypes and history of American Indians. As the only American Indian basketball player on his team, Junior makes remarks such as, “I am a warrior (141); I am going to be his Weapon of Mass Destruction! (142).” This language is an example of Alexie’s commentary on a white individual’s perception (his coach and teammates) of Junior. Junior (rez name) and Arnold (birth name) symbolize his “Part-Time Indian” identity. He says, “I felt like two different people inside of one body” (61). As an American Indian, he was trying to break the stereotypes and assimilate into his white environment. Alexie exaggerates his own identity through horrific stereotypes to address the issues of isolation and rejection in parts of American culture.
This text acknowledges, sometimes briefly, parts of adolescence that many don’t want to talk about. Alexie addresses bulimia, anorexia, racism, alcoholism, bullying, poverty, sexuality, and death, while keeping a humorous tone throughout the novel. Though this novel may be found on the “banned book” list in certain spaces, chances are most teenagers have experienced or seen at least one of these issues.
Junior points out stereotypes that exist in all shapes and sizes, not just for adolescent American Indian boys at white schools. He uses Roger as an example, the jock who is extremely polite and generous. Junior addresses these stereotypes and the limitations they force on the victims. He says, “And I couldn’t make fun of her for that dream, too. And Indian boys weren’t supposed to dream like that. And white girls from small towns weren’t supposed to dream big, either” (112). Alexie means to say that we should not accept our limitations, but rather fly into greatness out of miserable circumstances. Teenagers who read this novel can see Junior as an example of hard work and persistence among almost an impossible lot. If an impoverished American Indian boy can escape his prison, creating a new path for himself, then hope exists for anyone else who willing to grab it.
Alexie’s mixture of humor and sadness kept me turning the pages. His main character is an extension of himself, a voice for impoverished American Indians fighting for hope. Gordy says, “Well, life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community” (132). He uses his experiences on the rez and outside of the rez to explain his Part-Time Indian identity, which addresses all parts of society.
“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” may be his best work yet. Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting after school for a ride home.” Sunday Book Review, New York Times
“Jazzy syntax and Forney’s witty cartoons examining Indian versus White attire and behavior transmute despair into dark humor; Alexie’s no-holds-barred jokes have the effect of throwing the seriousness of his themes into high relief.” Publishers Weekly
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