The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tells the story of a high school age, Native American boy who is an excellent student and is advised by one of his teachers to leave the reservation. “You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope.” This means leaving his school to attend an all white school. Arnold (or Junior as he is called on the reservation) knows the teacher is right. The reservation school is underfunded and staffed by teachers who have low expectations for their students. So Arnold requests a transfer.
Sherman Alexie's novel takes an interesting approach to Arnold's situation. There are some anecdotes about his problems adjusting to his new school, but after a few uncomfortable situations, the students seem to accept him. The focus for Alexie is more on the reactions of Arnold's friends on the reservation. The students at his former school feel betrayed and sometimes react with violence. The problem with Alexie's choice is that the picture a reader is left with, is that the Native Americans are the ones who can't accept someone who wants to make his own way in life. Alexie must have realized this issue, because he started the Red Versus White chapter with the following excerpt:
You probably think I've completely fallen in love with white people and that I don't see anything good in Indians.
Well, that's false.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a YA book with a great deal to teach its readers about the struggles of Native Americans on reservations in today's world. Some of the issues were ones I was already familiar with, but learned a different perspective. Others were problems I hadn't realized existed.
I think this book would make an excellent source for a classroom study.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions