The Book with a Title That Says It All

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2007.
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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a semi-autobiographical novel by Sherman Alexie, is a coming of age story, revolving around the character Junior, and his life on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Junior, whose real name is Arnold Spirit, Jr., is born with many health issues, including being born with "water on the brain" and leads a troubled life due to them. He is bullied and taunted by his fellow students at the school on the rez due to his enlarged head, occasional lisp and stuttering. This bullying, along with a desire to better his education drives Junior to make the decision to leave the rez, and to go to Reardan.

This decision alienates Junior from the rest of the rez, causing his friend Rowdy to feel betrayed. This causes them to drift apart, despite Junior's attempts to maintain the friendship. This, coupled with Junior's success at Reardan by making friends and the basketball team, causes him to become apart of two societies. After he becomes attracted to a girl, Penelope, he tries to talk to Rowdy about it, but his friend will have nothing to do with him. He makes friends, such as Gordy, and eventually makes the basketball team for Reardan, but is then forced to play against his school, causing a separation between him and his people. He is no longer a true reservation Indian, but he is not truly apart of the White school of Reardan.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian effectively tackles major issues that are extremely relevant today. The book tackles themes such as race and class standing, friendship, coming-of-age and bullying. Junior's difficulties in his new school highlight the differences he has experienced from being of both a different race and class of his fellow students. His relationship with Rowdy demonstrates true friendship, and the troubles that it can face as we grow up. The bullying that Junior experiences is great enough to push him towards a different school, a real issue. This story is extremely relevant to a large group of students. Junior also goes through an extremely rough life at home. Not only is he alienated from his peers on the rez, he also suffers the loss of his sister, as well as tragedies striking family friends, and his grandmother. Junior goes through a rough patch in his life, something that many young adults can relate to.

The story is told from Junior's perspective, giving the book a diary-like feel. This method allows Alexie to write in a straight-forward style, not holding back on language or imagery. This, however, directly affects the book, and the age group it should be exposed to. At times Junior's language can be very vulgar, and some of the scenes can clearly be paralleled to a boy going through puberty. This certainly adds to authenticity of the piece, but it also highlights the caution that needs to occur when dealing with this book.

Recommendations for Teachers

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian contains vulgar language and graphic material. However, this should not dissuade you from teaching it to your students. Alexie exceptionally portrays the atmosphere of middle-to-high school adolescents. If deciding to make a lesson on this book make sure that you highlight the themes of poverty, social injustice, racism and death. This novel is a great tool to teach the previous mentioned themes as well as others. This novel is relevant to the Young Adult audience it was written for in any demographic of students. It should be recommended that students are cautioned with using the language that appears in the book and that students should take home a consent form alerting the parents to the nature of the novel. This exceptional novel can bring outstanding conversation and thinking into your classroom and it is recommended that you take time to teach it. Alexie has included some in depth discussion questions at the end of the novel that teachers can pick and choose from. Some ask the students to think about themselves and how they would react to situations as well as some for factual questions about the book.

About Sherman Alexie


Sherman Alexie is a Native American novelist, poet, filmmaker and comedian. He grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He is the author of twenty-two books. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was the winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. War Dances was the winner of the 2010 PEN Faulkner Award and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven was a PEN Hemingway Special Citation winner. Alexie has won other awards for short stories and for his film, Smoke Signals. Alexie now resides in Seattle, Washington with his family. Biography


Additional Resources:

  • YouTube - Head to YouTube to search for other videos from Sherman Alexie.
  • The Official Sherman Alexie Website - Check out Sherman Alexie, his writings, blogs, movies, and more on his own Official website.
  • Sherman Alexie Wiki - To find out some more background information on Alexie, head to the Wikipedia page devoted to him.
  • ALA Teens Top Ten - Head to Young Adult Library Services Association to check out other popular Young Adult Literature.
  • Alexie on the Colbert Report - Watch the Colbert Report featuring the author himself, Sherman Alexie.
  • Interview - Check out an interview of Sherman Alexie
  • Teaching Alexie in the classroom - Looking for help teaching Alexie in the classroom? This website has a book for teaching Alexie.
  • Lesson Plans - Webenglish has lesson plans for teaching Alexie available.
  • Additional Sources - This website includes additional sources and supplementary pieces to help with teaching Alexie.
  • Spokane Indian Reservation - Find out more information on where Alexie grew up and what life is like on the rez.

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