Arnold Spirit (Junior) is a very intelligent teenage boy living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He hopes to one day be able to leave the reservation and so something big with his life and so he begins attending an all-white school 22 miles away from his home. He has to deal with the whites not accepting him because he is an Indian and the Indians not accepting him because he is spending his time with white people. He has to deal with intense poverty and alcoholism all around him. He has to deal with the deaths, usually alcohol-related, of way too many people that he loves. He feels caught between the world where he grew up and his new world outside the reservation and must figure out who he really is (always Indian? Indian part of the time, white the rest? always white?)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of those books that has been challenged and even banned from schools and libraries. I understand why some parents would object to it. There is occasional language and it talks openly about things like masturbation and erections (it is, after all, told from the point of view of a teenage boy). The problem, though, is focusing on those things misses all the good about this book. It addresses things like racism (Indian vs. white, white vs. Indian, Indian vs. Indian), not being accepted by your (literal) tribe because you are a being an “apple” (red on the outside, white on the inside), the difficulty in leaving the reservation, the extreme poverty among Natives, the rampant alcoholism and how that affects everyone, and all the different parts of what makes you you. It’s a book that really makes you think. I recommend The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to older teens and adults.
4 (out of 5) Stars
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