Module 15 Censorship Issues
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forney
Junior has been bullied all his life. He is an awkward teenager with a love for comics and only one friend. During his freshman year in high school a conversation with his teacher forces him to consider the possibilities of life outside the reservation. Despite, his fear of leaving the reservation, Junior enrolls in white school with the hope of bettering his future. He is not welcomed into the new school, but for the first time in his life Junior stands up to his tormentor. Although, his time at school improves, Junior experiences loss and heartbreak throughout the novel. He makes a name for himself playing basketball and his biggest rival is his best friend from the reservation.
Alexie, S. (2007). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little Brown and Company.
My Impressions of the Book
Reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is like glimpsing into someone’s world, but they are completely unaware of the intrusion. No detail of the story has been omitted for vanity’s sake. Junior cries whether he is scared, devastated, or in pain. He vomits when his nerves get the best of him. The character possesses a raw honesty and frequently shares his inner most thoughts. I cheered for his success and mourned for his losses. Junior is a lovable character. It is Alexie’s willingness to share all the character’s flaws and gift him with complete honesty and unreserved humor that make the novel such an interesting and memorable read.
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
Shoemaker, C. (2007, September 1). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. [Review of the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by S. Alexie]. School Library Journal, 190.
Ideas for Library Use
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian could be displayed with a number of other wonderful novels to celebrate banned book week. Let’s encourage students to read and not limit their access to information. Students could also participate in a library blog to support their favorite challenged books.