Book Review for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Alexie, S. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time indian. New York: Hachette Book Group.
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the story of an unlikely hero. Meet Arnold Spirit, or “Junior”, as they call him on the rez (that’s slang for reservation). Most people wouldn’t like twice at Junior unless they were gawking at his unusually large head, gangly body, and dopy feet. Arnold was born with “water on the brain”, and this is why he describes himself as having a head too big for his body along with a whole other host of medical problems. That’s not the only reason people might stop and stare at Arnold Spirit. He’s the only Native American kid attending a predominantly white high school off the reservation. As you quickly find out by reading the story, the Native Americans on the reservation occupy a low place on the social totem pole. It seems to Arnold that all the white kids he goes to school with are privileged. They have plenty of friends, “normal” family structures, and plenty of money to spend. However, life on the rez is much different. Every child experiences the loss of close family members and loved ones to largely preventable deaths. As Arnold explains, most Native Americans in his town get stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty and alcoholism which leads to unfortunate ends. This is because the Native American Indians on his reservation are largely secluded from the rest of society. The story goes on to describe that the Spokane Indians of Wellpinit are shunned by white people. They are considered poor, dirty, alcoholic barbarians. They are suffer poverty and don’t have the same opportunities available to the white folk that live right off the reservation. With all of this considered, it’s not hard to see why Arnold is initially considered a freak by all the white teenagers he goes to school with.
Throughout The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the reader is able to see just how extensive the effects of the Spokane Indian’s socio-economic status are. Sherman Alexie paints a vivid picture of the cyclical life poverty and discrimination that many minority groups are subject to. Even once Arnold gets the courage to leave the reservation for better educational opportunities, his peers at school look down on him because he is “Indian”, and his friends at home look down on him because he is a “white lover”. This circumstance depicts the lose-lose situation that many Spokane Indians are subject to if they try to escape their oppressive life on the reservation. Though this story is a fictional work it, expresses the conditions in which the Spokane Indians and many other minority groups have suffered through in our society’s history. That is what makes this young adult novel such a genius read: it educates its reader while thoroughly entertaining them. Amidst the exciting and heart-wrenching storyline, Alexie teaches his young adult readesr how to interact with their peers that may come from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds. This moral proves that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. A high school basketball star, brain-wiz, loving friend, and altogether heroic figure can come from the most unexpected places. By the end of the story Arnold Spirit has gotten the attention of all of his peers, and this time they’re not just looking at his appearance.
Despite the creative storyline, valuable moral lesson, and intriguing writing, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is not loved by all readers; in fact it is a commonly banned book. Though Alexie’s young adult novel attacks the tough issue of race relations head-on, it is commonly written off for its language. Arnold Spirit is a typical teenage boy, and I mean typical in every way. He gets into fist-fights, has a rather colorful vocabulary, and shares every detail of his raging hormones with the reader. For many people, this ruins the story, but I think it adds depth to it. These “real life” anecdotes serve a larger role throughout the story. By observing Arnold’s vulnerability and candid persona, the story seems more real. Arnold is just your average teenage boy, and his way of communicating with the reader expresses that. Looking at these sometimes awkward portions of the text as a whole, one cannot help but realize how genuine they make the main character appear. These parts may offend some people, but a genuine novel grants its reader an authentic, inside experience with the main character.
Though some might shy away from the candid dialogue in this novel, for the stout of heart this stands to make the novel genuine fun. The main character, Arnold Spirit, is genuine, caring, and relatable. Throughout the story he stands as a symbol of the change one person can make when they refuse to maintain the status quo. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the story of an ordinary boy who brings two unlikely groups of people together in a rather heroic fashion.