The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Posted August 20, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

by Sherman Alexie

Publisher: Little Brown and Company on September 12, 2007
Genre: #OwnVoices, Contemporary, Humor
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

The story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

 

I had a lot of mixed feelings going into The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  I had some biases against Sherman Alexie going into it, knowing his history with women and just generally that there are a lot of mixed opinions about this book.  I feel I should be honestly here and say that I went in expecting not to like it.  And ultimately, I didn’t love it?  But it was better than I expected, even if it took me a little while to realize that.

One of the abrasive things I felt immediately was the stereotypical nature of the Natives in the book.  I don’t know much about the Spokane tribe, but surely, I felt, not all of them are constantly drunk?  Then I had to step back and metaphorically slap myself in the face because what the heck do I know, and how dare I?  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian comes from an #OwnVoices author, and this may have very well been his personal experience.  Or even if it wasn’t, hyperbole is a literary device that can be used to underline the importance of an issue, and regardless of race, alcoholism is a common comfort to the lower classes.

Then, I started thinking about this book less like a piece of entertainment – my usual approach, I do read books to enjoy them – and more like a piece of literature to be examined.  I think the academic perspective suited me better, because it got me thinking about the characters’ relationship with death, violence, and success.  All in all, a very interesting study of the struggle between personal identity and cultural identity.  From that perspective, I thought The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was a success.  If you want a window to see into one corner of Native life, this is a very accessible way to do so.

From a literary standpoint…?  This book wasn’t a great fit for me simply because Junior wasn’t a great fit for me.  I think I would have enjoyed more of Mary’s story.  Junior is a well-written round character, with hopes and dreams and anger and passion and kindness.  He’s written so well.  But beyond the issue bit, this was sort of a basketball story and, mneh, sports stories and I don’t mesh because I lose attention. And the constant presence of burping and farting and mentions of “chronic masturbation” are all very realistic… and just not my jam.  This has nothing to do with the issues presented in this book or the way it was written – just down to personal taste.  Junior is an important type of character to have out there in the world and I support his existence and other readers are going to love him.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian gets banned in a lot of schools because of the violence (there are very very scenes with Rowdy in which something doesn’t get punched), as well as the mention of masturbation.  That said, this book is a perfect example of YA.  Junior felt very, very real and this is a book that teens should absolutely read.  The perceived offensive bits aren’t really so bad.  There’s some language choices that rubbed me the wrong way – at the beginning, Junior describes himself and uses some really hurtful language regarding intellectual disabilities that does not recur in the book.  Additionally, right there in the title, the word “Indian” should not be used to describe Natives.  However, as an #OwnVoices writer, I’m inclined to think Alexie can use whatever noun he wants.  So.  Not my place to judge that.

This is a quick and easy read with a lot to unpack, and one that may require rereads to fully absorb all it has to offer.  A good book is layered, and this one certainly is.  While I’m not crazy about the author or supporting him, I think it would be foolish to write off The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  I’m going to be adding many, many more Indigenous authors to my TBR for variety, but I still recommend you check this one out of the library.  It’s disguised as a light YA about a young Spokane boy going to a white school, but it’s a deeper story about race and expectations and wanting to live.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★ 1/2
Plot: ★★★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★

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Harmful Behavior: Sexual Harassment, Racism

  • Proof:  Alexie didn’t even try to deny this himself, issuing a statement in 2018.  While it’s not the most satisfying apology, the self-awareness is there.  Worth mentioning, also, are Alexie’s comments about mixed individuals and native Hawaiians.  There’s a whole lot of points about his problematic nature in this article.
  • #OwnVoices Response:  One of the standout pieces accusing Alexie of harassment is Anne Ursu’s article on Medium.  Linda Gruno also shares a powerful piece on her personal experience with Alexie and his behavior toward her race.

In order to fight back against Sherman Alexie’s form of prejudice, I have donated $21.99 to Mending the Sacred Hoop.  This is the current cost (8/5/2020) of a hardcover copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from Barnes & Noble.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will Be Donated

Even though this is a compelling book, I didn’t particularly enjoy it, and I know I won’t read it again.  Even when I pulled it out of my TBR Jar, I mused on donating it without reading it because of some of the mixed things I’d heard.  While I’m glad I ultimately did read it and it made me think… I also have no desire to reread it.  It’s not a book for me, and I’d like to make room on my shelf for books I’d enjoy more.

That said, I think, shamefully, this means I don’t own any Indigenous works.  I don’t want to keep the book just to be a token author because that’s gross, but I also fully acknowledge that I need to do better.

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What books have you really enjoyed by Native or Indigenous authors?  You absolutely do NOT have to do my research for me – I’ve already done some of my own and added several books to my TBR, but if you have a favorite, I’d love to read that one, too!  Let me know in the comments!

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