The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

By Sherman Alexie
Publisher:Little, Brown Young Readers, (4/1/2009)

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.50 out of 5 (2 Clubie's ratings)

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Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Alexie's YA debut, released in hardcover to instant success, recieving seven starred reviews, hitting numerous bestseller lists, and winning the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
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MsSheena's thoughts on "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian"
updated on:6/4/2012

Absolutely love this book. This semi autobiography is honest and open about the hardships of his life. Everyone can relate at one part or another to this story and Junior is so funny it's scary. If you need a book on how different cultures mix and how a Spokane Indian ends up being a hero at an all white school...well you're in for a treat!


E's Reads's thoughts on "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian"
updated on:9/3/2009

What a wonderful little book! I wasn't so sure I would like it at first b/c it's labeled as YA, but it was really different and oh so enjoyable!

Very Unleashable

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian"
By Sherman Alexie

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.50 out of 5 (2 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

1. Consider the adjectives, “absolutely true” and “part-time.” What concepts appear to be emphasized by the images and the title? Does the cover appear to reference Junior’s internal struggle, or a struggle between Junior and the white power structure, or both, or neither?

2. By drawing cartoons, Junior feels safe. He draws “because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me.” How do Junior’s cartoons (for example, “Who my parents would have been if somebody had paid attention to their dreams” and “white/Indian”) show his understanding of the ways that racism has deeply impacted his and his family’s lives?

3. When Junior is in Reardan (the white town), he is “half Indian,” and when he is in Wellpinit (his reservation), he is “half white.” “It was like being Indian was my job,” he says, “but it was only a part-time job. And it didn’t pay well at all.” At Reardan High, why does Junior pretend he has more money than he does, even though he knows “lies have short shelf lives”?

4. Junior describes his reservation as “located approximately one million miles north of Important and two billion miles west of Happy.” Yet when he and Rowdy look down from almost the top of an immense pine, he says, “We could see our entire world. And our entire world, at that moment, was green and golden and perfect.” What forces drive the dichotomy of Junior’s perceptions of his world and allow him to see the land in apparently disparate ways?

5. Cultural outsiders who write young adult fiction tend to romanticize the impoverishment of Indians. Junior is having none of this: “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 that you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” How does Junior’s direct language address this stereotypical portrayal of Indians? What about his language draws the teen reader into the realities of his life?

6. Junior’s parents, Rowdy’s father, and others in their community are addicted to alcohol, and Junior’s white “friend with potential,” Penelope, has bulimia. “There are all kinds of addicts, I guess,” he says. “We all have pain. And we all look for ways to make the pain go away.” Compared to the characters in Jon Hassler’s young adult novel, Jemmy (Atheneum, 1980), how does Junior’s understanding of addiction transcend ethnicity and class? 

7. Junior refers to his home reservation as “the rez,” a familiar name for the place he was born, the place his friends and relatives for many generations back were born and are buried, and the land to which he is tied that, no matter how bad things get, will now and forever be called “home.” What would Junior think of a cultural outsider, such as Ian Frazier, who visits a reservation to gather material for a book and then calls his book “On the Rez”? 

8. At Junior’s grandmother’s funeral, Junior’s mother publicly gives a white billionaire his comeuppance to the delight of the whole community. “And then my mother started laughing,” Junior says. “And that set us all off. It was the most glorious noise I’d ever heard. And I realized that, sure, Indians were drunk and sad and displaced and crazy and mean but, dang, we knew how to laugh. When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing. And so, laughing and cry

ing, we said goodbye to my grandmother. And when we said goodbye to one grandmother, we said goodbye to all of them. Each funeral was a funeral for all of us. We lived and died together.” How does this reflect a cultural insider’s perspective and how does it disrupt stereotypes about stoic Indians?

9. “I’m fourteen years old and I’ve been to forty-two funerals,” Junior says. “That’s really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.” In the community of Wellpinit, everyone is related, everyone is valued, everyone lives a hardscrabble life, everyone is at risk for early death, and the loss of one person is a loss to the community. Compare Wellpinit to Reardan, whose residents have greater access to social services, health care, and wealth, and people are socially distanced from each other. How does Junior use this blunt, matter-of-fact statement to describe this vast gulf between an impoverished Indian community and a middle-class white town just a few miles away?

10. In many ways, Junior is engulfed by the emotional realities of his life and his community. Yet his spare, matter-of-fact language and his keen sense of irony help him to confront and negotiate the hurt, the rage, and the senselessness of Wellpinit’s everyday realities. How does Junior use language to lead readers, whose lives may be very different from his own, to the kind of understanding that they will not get from young adult fiction whose writers do not have this kind of lived experience?

11. Cultural markers can be defined as the behaviors, speech patterns, ways of seeing the world, ethics, and principles that identify a person as belonging to a particular culture. When Rowdy and Junior play one-on-one at the end of the book—and they don’t keep score—how is their friendship solidified by their deep knowing of who they are and what they come from?

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 7–10—Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie's first young adult novel is a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old was born with water on the brain, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw. He says, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one's community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist's grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The many characters, on and off the rez, with whom he has dealings are portrayed with compassion and verve, particularly the adults in his extended family. Forney's simple pencil cartoons fit perfectly within the story and reflect the burgeoning artist within Junior. Reluctant readers can even skim the pictures and construct their own story based exclusively on Forney's illustrations. The teen's determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie's tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.—Chris Shoemaker, New York Public Library 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

From Booklist
Arnold Spirit, a goofy-looking dork with a decent jumpshot, spends his time lamenting life on the "poor-ass" Spokane Indian reservation, drawing cartoons (which accompany, and often provide more insight than, the narrative), and, along with his aptly named pal Rowdy, laughing those laughs over anything and nothing that affix best friends so intricately together. When a teacher pleads with Arnold to want more, to escape the hopelessness of the rez, Arnold switches to a rich white school and immediately becomes as much an outcast in his own community as he is a curiosity in his new one. He weathers the typical teenage indignations and triumphs like a champ but soon faces far more trying ordeals as his home life begins to crumble and decay amidst the suffocating mire of alcoholism on the reservation. Alexie's humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn't pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt. A few of the plotlines fade to gray by the end, but this ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure. Younger teens looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here. Chipman, Ian --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

"Sure to resonate and lift spirits of all ages for years to come." (USA Today )

"This is a gem of a book....may be [Sherman Alexie's] best work yet." (New York Times )

"Nimbly blends sharp with unapologetic emotion....fluid narration deftly mingles raw feelings with funny, sardonic insight." ((starred review) Kirkus Reviews )

"Deftly taps into the human desire to stand out while fitting in." (BookPage )

"[Alexie] has created an endearing teen protagonist in his own likeness and placed him in the here and now." (Minneapolis Star Tribune )

"Exceptionally good....Arnold is a wonderful character." (Miami Herald )

"Fierce observations and sharp sense of humor...hilarious language." (Newsday )

"Alexie's humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience." (Booklist )

"Few writers are more masterful than Sherman Alexie." (Los Angeles Times )

"What emerges most strongly is Junior's uncompromising determination to press on while leaving nothing important behind." (BCCB(starred review) )

"The line between dramatic monologue, verse novel, and standup comedy gets unequivocally-and hilariously and triumphantly-bent in this novel." (Horn Book (starred review) )

"Realistic and fantastical and funny and tragic-all at the same time." (VOYA (starred review) )

"Breathtakingly honest, funny, profane, sad....will stay with readers." (KLIATT (starred review) )

"A Native American equivalent of Angela's Ashes." (Publishers Weekly (starred review) ) 
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A National Book Award-winning author, poet, and filmmaker, Sherman has been named one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists and has been lauded by The Boston Globe as "an important voice in American literature." He is one of the most well known and beloved literary writers of his generation, with works such as The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and Reservation Blues and has received numerous awards and citations, including the PEN/Malamud Award for Fiction and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Award.

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