Note: This post is part of a series on School Library Media/Materials for a course

Alexie, S. & Forney, E. (illus.) (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian follows the story of Arnold Spirit, “Junior” as he navigates his way through not only the first year of high school but the two worlds of where he lives on the Spokane reservation, and where he goes to school, the all-white Reardan High School. In essence, though he belongs in both worlds, so too does he not belong. Junior must fight both worlds to prove that he belongs in both, not just to others, but to himself. Though fiction, the book is based on Alexie’s experiences growing up on the reservation and his decision to leave the reservation to go to another school.

One of the primary strengths of the book is that it involves a culture that is rarely accurately seen and is highly misunderstood by society. In terms of diverse books, materials by and about Native Americans, especially narrative fiction, are even less common than those of other racial and ethnic groups. Much of American understanding of Native Americans is still holdover from inaccurate stereotypes from old “Cowboys & Indians” type films. The one issue I found with the book is that I feel that it may reinforce some stereotypes about Native Americans (as described in Ten Quick Ways to Determine Racism and Sexism in Children’s Books) but at the same time the book is written by a Native American based on his life experiences so I’m not sure how well this applies. In addition to being of interest to Native American youth, the book has wider appeal to teens and young adults in general who can easily identify with some of the protagonist’s struggles to fit in. This title would be especially important in the libraries of New Mexico communities, as approximately 10 percent of New Mexico’s population is Native American. While there are certainly differences between reservations in the Pacific Northwest and New Mexico, it is important to provide Native American authors for this community.

English/Language Arts Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Links to supporting content:

Who am I? Curriculum for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Scholastic Teaching Guide

Washington Tribes

Native American Tribes of Washington

Sherman Alexie’s Website

Subjects/themes: Genre: Comedy and Humor, Realistic Fiction, Subject: Adolescent Issues, High School, Native American, Tolerance and Acceptance