Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian review – Sherman Alexie’s admirable and nostalgic coming-of-age novel strikes deep in our hearts
5/5 Stars – Common Sense Media
This novel’s author, Sherman Alexie, partnered up with artist, Ellen Forney, to create this wonderful and engaging story about Alexie’s childhood, viewed through the eyes of Arnold Spirit. Alexie, just like Arnold, had a tough childhood. He was born with excess cerebrospinal fluid, thus making him hydrocephalic. This caused him to have a dangerous and urgent operation throughout his first 6 months of life. He survived the incident but it caused him to have a large history of seizures during his childhood. (Sandra Cisneros, an author who also writes coming-of-age novels, would have written a book with a similar concept, explaining the story through the eyes of a character that represents the author)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian reads like an excerpt from Sherman Alexie’s life, set in Wellpinit, Washington, about the transformational experience of Arnold Spirit.
In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Alexie musingly reflects by giving us every detail of his freshman days, as the writer of the story. This story is about a coming-of-age boy in Wellpinit, Washington. Arnold Spirit, or Junior as he is preferred to be called, is entering high school on his reservation and he realizes, with the help of others, that he can’t stay on the rez or else he is going to turn out like everybody else, poor and losing their culture. In “How to Fight Monsters,” he moves to Reardan High School and had an epiphany of how racist people could be. They call him names and tell very racist jokes about Native Americans. He is positive that his school year would get much worse, since he is Native American, instead, he becomes popular and makes new friends. He also gets a girlfriend! He leaves (in some cases, loses) friends and family members behind, but, in the end, he finds a way to move on from the troubles.
In this illustrious piece, it seems as if Alexie has had a good experience with the genre and tone. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian doesn’t read like a diary. The way it is written and the word choice makes it seem like if you were experiencing the whole novel, instead of reading it off a “diary”. It makes us feel the emotions and struggles Arnold is bearing, along with a strife to keep his Native American culture, as well as being a person in poverty. As shown in Alexie’s previous works, he focuses on the traditions and economic status of several Native American Tribes. Alexie’s judgemental and nostalgic tone is what made this book a success.
This book is comprised of 2 general themes. At the beginning of the story, we are presented with an example of the theme of money, class and socioeconomic status. In the chapter “Why Chicken Means So Much to Me,” Arnold’s dog gets sick and Arnold tries to save him. He then realizes that he does not have the money to take him to the vet. So his dad chooses the cheaper option ( a bullet that only costs 2 cents). He shot the dog to end his suffering and Arnold now blames his parents for his impoverished state and not being able to help his dog. Another example is the chapter “Dance, Dance, Dance,” when Arnold joins along with some friends to a 24-hour diner to buy food. When he orders a lot of food, he worries that his friends (including his girlfriend, Penelope) are going to find out that he is poor. He thinks they will hate him because of that. But he finds out, it does not matter anyway. His friends and Penelope still like him, no matter his socioeconomic status.
The other theme shown in this book is cultural and racial background and expectations. This is shown throughout the book but it is mostly shown in the chapter “Revenge is My Middle Name.” In this chapter, Arnold tells us about his relationship with Rowdy, but he also makes sure to include enough to understand their culture.He talks about their pow-wows and what other Indians were performing and how they were “supposed”, according to expectations, to act. Although lots of this is shown is in this chapter, throughout the rest of the book, there are other expectations and backgrounds shown. One of the expectations is racial boundaries. t is shown when Penelope’s dad tells Arnold to stay away from her because he expects Native Americans not to have the right to hang out with white people. Another racial expectation shown a lot through the book is that Native Americans are always drunk because, through Alexie’s words, most of them are!
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an admirable coming-of-age novel. Even though it is devoid of the time frame, it does a great job of putting us in the shoes of Arnold and explaining his competence of being able to leave his comfort zone, travel into the unknown and feeling the melancholia or struggles that come with that choice. This book shares all of the emotions Alexie felt as a teen and it is an exquisitely built book. I feel like it deserves it’s more than 5 awards and since it has been a satisfactory piece.