Reading Journal: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Sherman Alexie2007
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
240 pages

Note: Last month Aarti over at Booklust and I had a long discussion about Native American literature. We both talked about how little of it we read and we wanted to change that. Starting this month we’re reading at least one book by a Native American author. It’s not a lot but it is a start. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was chosen because it’s a book that’s received rave reviews. Instead of doing a more formal review of the book, Aarti and I decided to just have a discussion of the book and an interview that Alexie did with The Iowa Review in 2000. The interview isn’t available online but if you know your way around your library’s database, you can get a copy of it.

Short review: Arnold Spirit a.k.a Junior is a Native American teenager with a host of medical problems. Because of this he’s basically an outcast on the reservation. When he receives his textbook in class, Junior soon realizes that it’s the same textbook his mother received thirty-five years ago when she was in school. But leaving the reservation to go to another school means Junior will be labeled a traitor by most people on the reservation. What happens is a funny and thought-provoking journey.

Aarti: I’m so glad we set a date to read this one together, Natasha, as it was such a good book and I don’t know how long it would have been lapsing on my shelf if we hadn’t made a joint effort to read more Native American literature!  I thoroughly enjoyed Junior’s story- it was witty, funny and heart-warming- just as all successful coming-of-age stories are.  I loved how generous and kind Junior was- it was so refreshing to read about a teenager who didn’t have a lot of internal drama or angst.  I also loved how different all of his friends were.  What did you think of the characters?

Natasha: Because we see the character’s through Junior’s eyes, there weren’t any that I hated – though the guy that showed up at the grandmother’s funeral was an ass! I was just amazed at Junior’s acceptance of his family and his loved ones. It makes me wonder now that more time has passed since I read it, was this willingness to see and accept everyone for who they are, more apart of who Alexie is as an adult than who he was as a teen since so much of the book is based on the author’s life.

Aarti: I wonder that, too! I wonder how much of this story is true to Alexie’s life.  If he really did attend an all-white school from the reservation (and walked 22 miles sometimes to get there!), that is very impressive!  I think Junior had a lot of confidence and gumption- he went after what he wanted, and I think that drew a lot of people to him.  I agree that man at the funeral was completely ridiculous, but that whole scene was so funny!  It really hit home for me that a lot of people who may be considered experts may be nothing of the sort.  And the theft aspect of the war dance costume was pretty significant, too.  I think the way Alexie hit on Native American treatment at the hands of the US government was very telling- he only really hinted at it, but made his opinions very clear.

Vasilly: The funeral scene did the same thing for me too. I don’t think I can ever look at a person who’s a different race from a culture as “the” expert ever again! In the interview I sent you, Alexie talks about writing from a woman’s perspective and also about whites writing from an Indian perspective and more. Part of the answer he gave about whites writing from an Indian perspective is that they don’t know anything about being Indian but Alexie knows about being white because he had to know if he was going to make something of himself. It goes back to what we’ve talked about being: having to adopt “white” characteristics to have a better life. This is a really interesting author. I’m hoping to read his short story collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven soon.

Aarti: Yes, that is a great interview that I’m still reading through, and it definitely touches on many of the aspects we’ve talked about before- for example, how so many different cultures have terminology for people who are “colored on the outside, white on the inside.”  Here, it was an apple (red on the outside, white on the inside).  I said that for Indians, it’s a coconut (brown on the outside) and you said for African-Americans, it’s an Oreo (black on the outside).

This is the first half of the discussion. You can find the rest of the discussion over at Booklust.

21 thoughts on “Reading Journal: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian”

  1. I loved this joint discussion between you and Aarti! I had not realized that a lot of this book was based on Alexie’s life, and now that makes me want to read it even more! I have been wanting to try something by Alexie for awhile, and I am sadly out of tune when it comes to reading about Native Americans. It sounds like the protagonist is the type who doesn’t spend a lot of time feeling angsty and put-upon, which sounds kind of refreshing, to be honest! I will definitely be trying this one!

  2. Also, I think I DMd you a link to the interview. It is available online, but I also link to it in my review if you want to find it.

  3. What perfect timing! I am so glad you reviewed this because I have been on the lookout for another Alexie book, and this sounds wonderful. I think I need to make a trip to the bookstore.

  4. I’m resolved to be a silent partner in reading a book by/about Native Americans at least once a month. If it’s not by Native Americans, I will research and make sure it’s ocnsidered positively by Native Americans. It’s a shame at the lack of literature about native Americans that is out there, regardless of genre. The only YA authors I can think of are Sherman Alexie (I want to read all his books, he’s hilarious! And wholly fantastic), and Marlene Carvell (not a Native American, but she is married to a Mohawk I think.) I’m looking forward to following this series. I really enjoy joint reviews.

    I believe Part Time Diary is largely autobiographical. I rememeber watching an interview with Alexie in which he said that he was born with water on the brain, he did attend an all white school and I forgot what else. It was at Mitali Perkins’ blog and I wish I remembered the name of the video!

    I LOVE this book. I want to buy it for everyone as required reading. The scene at the funeral was hilariously awful. But things like that happen to people all the time, when people of a different culture think that they are experts on another culture. They can never fully be experts.

    I was also struck at how every culture of color has a name for ‘white on the inside’; coconut, apple, oreo. Why is it always fruit?! Seriously though, it’s quite sad how negative people of a culture can be towards others in their culture. Why do we tear each other down? honestly, we need to band together and demand equality from some white people (obviously, it’s gotten much better). I’m definitely writing a post on this early in June.

  5. Dear self: Rear Sherman Alexie asap! He’s one of those authors I feel I already love without having read. Once I do, I’ll probably be joining your troupe of fangirls.

  6. Nymeth took the words right out of my mouth! I have a copy of War Games from the library, and, though I haven’t read a single page, I know I’m going to love it. As soon as I’m done with War Games, I’m requesting a copy of “The Absolutely True Diary…”

    Great discussion, ladies!

  7. Vasilly, although Smoke Signals (made from an Alexie book) is one of my top ten favorite movies (you’re reminding me to order it again), I’m really here because you said elsewhere that you were reading Grapes of Wrath. That’s a seminal book for me.

  8. Sounds like a great coming of age story and I like that it isn’t full of teenage angst and whatnot!

  9. If you haven’t already found your next round of American Indian Literature to read, I would recommend: Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, Fools Crow and Winter in the Blood by James Welch and She had some Horses (poetry) by Joy Harjo. I hope you enjoy these. They are some of my favorite books. Also, thanks for your fabulous review/discussion of Sherman Alexis’ book.

  10. Even the deaf culture has a label like that… the sign for it is the equivalent of “think-hearing”.

    I really enjoyed “The Absolute True Diary”, and also have read two of Alexie’s short story collections “The Toughest Indian in the World” and “Ten Little Indians”. I definitely plan to read more of his works.

  11. What a great disscussion. Can you announce the next book by a Native American author that will be discussed, so those who want to can seek it out ahead of time.

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