[Book Review] The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

28c4d1f2e8d048f702c3dbf0990aca8cTitle: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Format: Paperback, 288 pages
Genre: Semi-Autobiographical, Young-Adult
ISBN-13: 978-0316-01369-7
Release Date: 2007
Publisher: Little, Brown Book for Young Readers
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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Last month I thought I’d focus on reading banned and challenged books as September 21st – 27th is Banned Books Week.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a semi-autobiographical, young adult novel about Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation. Junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white high school in a neighboring farm town and labeled a traitor by his tribe.

I picked this book for several reasons (1) it ranked in the top 10 of banned and challenged books (2) it’s a novel by an American Indian and (3) it sounded interesting.

For all its awards and acclaim, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been banned and challenged practically since its publication for the following reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

There are many themes (i.e. hopes and dreams, race, and bullying) other than the themes used as reasons for banning and challenging The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. There are lots of positive themes such as overcoming adversity, not giving up, being a fighter, and fulfilling your dreams by working hard.

I was surprised to read that one parent said “it’s about. . . masturbation, which is not appropriate for my child to learn at 11. It’s like 50 Shades of Grey for kids.” New York Daily News.

Sure the novel talks about masturbation, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about self-discovery. And discovering one’s sexual identity is only one aspect of it and it’s far from 50 Shades of Grey for kids. I did a little bit of research and found that a common age for boys to start masturbating is around age 8 (some earlier, some later) and 100% of boys have masturbated by the time they’re 15. So, sorry mom there’s a pretty good chance your little one has already taken part in the dreaded M-word and according to the Children’s Health Network he may partake in it several times a day.

At one point Junior says:

. . . if God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs. (p. 26)

Another parent argued that it’s racist. I’m wondering if he felt the novel is racist because of this:

Hey, Chief,” Roger said. “You want to hear a joke?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Did you know that Indians are living proof that niggers fuck buffalo?”

. . . or maybe the parent felt it’s racist because Penelope’s father is a racist and tells Arnold,

Kid, if you get my daughter pregnant, if you make some charcoal babies, I’m going to disown her. I’m going to kick her out of my house . . .

Well, sir, I must say I hear people make racist jokes quite a lot and I know quite a few white parents that would without hesitation kick their daughters out if they ever got pregnant by a person of color. Right now in 2014, I work with someone who refuses to pay for his son’s college education because he’s dating a black girl. So, sir, I’m sorry to say racism still exists.

My Thoughts on Part-Time Indian

I don’t typically read YA literature, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. I was able to relate to quite a lot of it. Being a minority in a white neighborhood and school, I was made fun of because I wasn’t white. I didn’t fit in with either black or white people. I lived a dual life, actually more of a grey life and like Arnold, I wasn’t truly accepted by my white counterparts and black folks didn’t truly accept me either because I wasn’t black enough. Whatever the hell that means.

Anyway, I digress.

Alexie does a phenomenal job of getting across what Arnold has gone through in his short life. The novel is funny and heart-breaking and it deals with some really tough topics that not only American Indian boys deal with but boys in general.

It follows Arnold’s 9th grade year away from the reservation. He talks about how his best friend, Rowdy, turns his back on him because he decides to go to school off the reservation, falling in love with a white girl, the angst of his first school dance, being poor, being bullied, alcoholism, death and he talks about his hopes and dreams.

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