The Literary Corner: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is a young adult novel written by Sherman Alexie with art by Ellen Forney. It’s the story of Arnold Spirit, a.k.a. Junior, a teenager living in poverty on an Indian reservation.

Arnold was born with “water on the brain,” resulting in a number of physical ailments which leads to much teasing by others on the rez. Arnold’s best — and pretty much only — friend is tough guy Rowdy.

After a conversation with a teacher, Arnold realizes that the only hope he has to make a better life for himself is to leave the reservation and attend Reardan — a nearby school attended mostly by wealthy — or at least wealthy by Arnold’s standards — white kids. This doesn’t sit well with Rowdy and causes a rift in their relationship.

If Junior thought things would be easier in White Man’s school, he was wrong. He’s even more of an outcast at Reardan but he is eventually befriended by a fellow nerd.

So far, so good. The story is told from Arnold’s point of view and Alexie’s writing is sharp while Forney’s illustrations (meant to represent Arnold’s doodling) complement the writing. There’s a bit early on about Arnold’s dog getting sick and the family not having the money to pay a vet that’s moving.

But then it gets a little too Hollywood. Despite being poor, physically lacking and the school outcast, Arnold manages to become the boyfriend of the most popular girl in school. Really? In what alternate earth high school could this happen? This of course leads to him being befriended by the big man on campus.

Furthermore, despite all his physical ailments, Arnold somehow becomes the school’s prize basketball player. This leads to the inevitable showdown game with the reservation team, who’s star player is — you guessed it — Rowdy.

I suppose this part was necessary for the movie version, but it doesn’t really fit in with the world that had been established. It’s just all too pat and predictable. Fortunately, the story picks up again after the basketball distraction and wraps up nicely.

Overall, I thought “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” was a nice tale with humor and poignancy and well-developed characters. It offers some thoughtful lessons in tolerance and respect of others. I’d recommend it for young adults and old ones.

Now, right about now (or much earlier) you’re probably asking yourself “Why is Ronnie reviewing a book?” or “Why is Ronnie reviewing a young adult book?” or most likely “Why is Ronnie reviewing a book that doesn’t have the word “comic” in front of it?”

Well, you see, I’m doing it for the kids back home. It turns out the Stockton R1 School District Board of Education recently voted to ban “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” from the curriculum, and the school library. It was a unanimous vote.

That’s right. In the year 2010, in the first decade of the 21st Century, the Stockton Ri School District Board of Education banned a book about a poor young Indian boy trying to make a better life for himself.

Now, I could call these people dumb, close-minded and out of touch with reality — but that would be rude. And I could call these people Nazis or Fascists or Communists or compare them to any other group of people you usually associate with book banning — but hey, I’m not Glenn Beck.

So, I’ll just say this to the Stockton R1 School District Board of Education:

Books cannot hurt you.

Oh sure, if someone threw one at you hard enough it could hurt you. If one fell from a great height and hit you it could hurt you. If a bookcase full of books fell over on you, it could hurt you…let me start over.

Reading a book cannot hurt you.

Oh sure, if it was a book about how to commit suicide or build a bomb and you followed the instructions, it could hurt you. But just as a general rule, reading a book cannot hurt you. Especially reading “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” I read it. I’m still here. I actually felt like I learned a few things.

Now you may be asking, what’s so offensive about this book? Well, as near as I can tell, it’s written from the perspective of a teenage boy and, well, you know teenage boys. They sometimes use inappropriate language. And talk about inappropriate bodily functions. A lot. Of course, teenage boys in Stockton, Missouri, don’t talk like that, or engage in acts like that.

Keep telling yourselves that, board of education.

Now, I’m not saying anything goes. I wouldn’t recommend the school library carry copies of Playboy. Playboy belongs hidden under a teenage boy’s mattress, like always.

But seriously — “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” — winner of the National Book Award; named one of the Best Books of 2007 by the School Library Journal; this you think needs to be banned?

I don’t get it. But to be fair, this isn’t the stupidest decision ever made by the Stockton R1 School District Board of Education. No, that would be back in 1977 when they forever banned the Senior Trip. I spent my freshmen year washing cars and hosting bake sales and having water balloons thrown at me to raise money for a senior trip and IT WAS ALL FOR NOTHING.

If you’re wondering, the senior trip was banned after some members of the Class of ’77 were caught doing all kinds of things on senior trip that, well, let’s just say the chaperones fell down on the job.

And not a single member of the Class of ’77 had read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

“Excellent in every way, poignant and really funny and heartwarming and honest and wise and smart…I have no doubt that in a year or so it’ll both be winning awards and being banned.” — Neil Gaiman


5 responses to “The Literary Corner: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

  1. Best article you have ever written.

  2. I guess because J.K. Rowling hasn’t published a Harry Potter book in a while they had to find something else to ban. The irony is that banning the book will just make more kids want to read it.

  3. Please tell me you wrote a letter to the editor of the local Stockton newspaper? Or at least a letter to the school board? They have to read those things into the record, you know.
    Also, thanks for the book recommendation. I have some teenage brothers that could probably stand to read something this summer.

  4. Wow. Another great Report.
    You probably won’t be able to access it on the Stockton school computer network.
    Ronnie possesses the gift of subtlety that hides the heart of a pretty gritty bastard. Or something like that.
    Well done.

  5. One of my favorite rroy reports on one of my favorite subjects.

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