Monday, November 7, 2011

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Annotation: A bright, artistic Indian teenager chooses to attend a school off his reservation to escape the dead-end cycle of poverty and violence and clings to hope, despite challenges resulting from his identity as an Indian in an all-white school and as a traitor within his own community on the reservation.

Book Talk:
Meet Junior:
This is a self-portrait he drew of how he thinks he looks at fourteen. Sometimes kids think they look a lot worse than they do and imagine their flaws as being super exaggerated. In Junior’s case though, he does stand out physically; he was born with “water on the brain” and his head is unusually large. He miraculously survived brain surgery when he was just six months old, but he still suffers from seizures, a debilitating stutter and lisp. He gets headaches because one of his eyes is near-sighted and the other is far-sighted and since he lives on an Indian reservation, or “res,” his only option for glasses is a pair that’s big, thick and black. But trapped inside Junior’s body is a hopeful, artistic soul who is smart and can draw.

Meet Junior’s parents:
This is how Junior imagines they might have been. They used to have dreams and aspirations for the future, but the oppression and poverty of the “res” left them with few choices and so, even though his mother still reads all the time, she never became a teacher and, though his father could have been a musician, he only plays now when he drinks his pain away, and is poor, like everyone else on the res is and has been for generations.

Meet Mr. P, Junior’s teacher on the res:
Mr. P might mean well, but he forgets to come to school. Teachers like Mr. P live in a compound, apart from the community. They are all white. Indians on the res don’t get to become teachers and educate their own people. The books Mr. P uses to teach are the same ones Junior’s mom used. Not just the same edition; the same exact copies. There isn’t money for new, updated books for the res school.

Meet Rowdy:
Junior’s best friend hates when Junior draws him. He’s angry, and if you lived in a home with as much violence as he does, you’d probably be angry too. Rowdy is tough and good at sports, but he also loves comic books, just like Junior, so they’ve been friends since they were little kids. He can be cruel to Junior, but he’s also loyal and defends his friend against all the bullies on the res.

Junior should, by all accounts, be dead, or at least as hopeless and broken down as the other Indians on the res who fight and drink, drink and fight. And yet, his love of learning and his artistic talent lead him to make the bravest decision of all: to attend a school off the res, where he might actually have a shot at a decent future. This might not seem like a big deal, but to the res community, and his only friend Rowdy, he is a traitor. And he doesn’t exactly fit in with the white, middle and upper class students at his new school either:
Can Junior survive being ostracized by his own people; his closest friend? Can he brave the social scene at his suburban school as a poor res kid, knowing he will never have the right clothes, cash to cover a snack or even be able to count on ride home? Can he rise above the poverty, violence and tragedy of the res to be the first Indian in his family able to choose hope and, just maybe, a future worth the risk?

  • #1 Book Sense Bestseller
  • Best Book of the Year
  • Boston-Globe Horn Book Award 2008
  • California Young Reader Medal 2010
  • International Book on Books for Young People Sweden- Peter Pan Prize 2009
  • Kirkus Reviews Best YA Book of 2007
  • Nappa Gold Book
  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature 2007
  • New York Times Notable Book of 2007
  • Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year 2007
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Illus. Ellen 
     Forney. New York: Little, 2007. Print.

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