Dakota Student

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

Breanna Roen, Staff Writer

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Arnold Spirit Jr. is just like any young adult. Attempting school, playing sports and trying to make friends; well, he’s trying his best to. Arnold lives on one of the most impoverished reservations in Washington, where alcoholism and abuse ravages the town like wildfire.

He’s a “small fry” and also goes by the name “Junior” which means he is constantly being bullied. One day, he decides that he has had enough of being shoved into lockers, and it is time to make a change. A change that would affect his whole world.

Written by one of the well-renowned Native American author Sherman Alexie, this story conveys joy, love and sadness like you have never seen before. Alexie takes us on a journey throughout this novel of his life on a reservation.

Yes, you read that right. This is a story of Alexie’s life, just through different character names. It is clear to see that Alexie poured his heart and soul into this novel, recollecting everything he experienced growing up.

This story takes us on the whirlwind adventure of Arnold Spirit Jr. He is a young man on the Spokane Indian Reservation, facing the many hardships any young man would face, along with bullying and the alcoholism seen within his family.

After enduring multiple years of pain and hardship, he decides to make the drastic change of leaving his reservation.

Arnold is about to do something no one on the reservation has ever dared to do before, attend the “white school” in the rival sports town of Reardan.

Upon attending, he is instantaneously alienated from the reservation for “trying to act white.” All Arnold wants is to get the education he thinks he deserves. He leaves everything behind except his friend Rowdy.

For these two, it is the typical match up. Arnold is a very quiet, mannered, conserved kind of guy, whereas Rowdy is the tall, buff hooligan. Rowdy’s “angry” background stems from the abuse and alcoholism he’s experience at home throughout his life. All in all, Rowdy is a pretty good guy with a huge heart of gold and his love for Archie comics.

When he begins to attend Reardan High School, he has to adapt to his new surroundings, and go through the gain and loss of friends. Arnold wasn’t used to seeing people with fancy clothes, nice cars or even having allowances.

Thinking he will be isolated once again, he decides to join the basketball team. Arnold had always considered himself somewhat bad at basketball, because he played for one of the best districts in the area. Once he transfers, he gets moved up to a varsity level playing field and begins his path to glory.

With every happy story, of course there has to be a sad moment or five. Between hardships of love and loss, this book consistently leaves you on the edge of your seat and wanting more.

When you are able to read more, you almost wish you never did. Solely from the hardships that Arnold is facing throughout his young life.

This book covers themes in all aspects of: identity, home, race, poverty, tradition, friendship and many other topics spanning across this entire book. If you have ever read this book, you will be astounded by the things Alexie lived through.

After reading, it begs a few questions: “do other Native American authors write like this?” and “where can I find another book like this because I need more!?”

Compared to other Native American writers, Alexie is a whole different ball game on his own. Unlike other writers such as N. Scott Momaday and Leslie Marmon Silko, he was never raised under a family that told him to push for what he wanted to achieve.

He wasn’t raised in even a middle class family. Alexie considered himself and his family rather impoverished compared to other people on his reservation and others.

Alexie also suffers from hydrocephalus which is a condition that causes water buildup in the brain. From this condition, he began to develop seizures and found no means to escape them. Until one day he started reading a book and he couldn’t stop. Alexie has said throughout countless interviews that he credits reading to helping him overcome his seizures from this condition.

He decided to give writing a story or poem a chance and some years later he attended Washington State University to  an education in writing and literature. Alexie has credited his huge success from his desire to always want to push the envelope and see what he can get away with in his literature.

In fact, in the year 2014 this book was the most challenged among the vast archives of other banned and challenged books in the world. This just goes to show Alexie will use whatever he can to convey how a character truly is without sugarcoating anything.

I read this book last year, around this time, in a day. It was nearly impossible for me to put down. Subsequently, my homework for the day showed that I didn’t put this book down and I was one hundred percent okay with that.

If you ever have time to grab this book, do it. I recommend this book on such a high level because of the amount of detail to attention Alexie provides throughout this novel. The sheer advocative cries of having this book banned is also a huge motivation to read it if you enjoy controversy as I do. I urge you to check out this book as soon as you can.

Breanna Roen is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]

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“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”