Post by Mattheus Oliviera:

Although incest in particular isn’t a core concern of mine, a lot of my interests lie in how people imagine non-normative and explicitly taboo romances. It really is an interest in how we want our romantic writing to look. This paper is then not an exploration into any actual romances that we could find out there in the news, online, or through coded rumors. More importantly, this is not an argument for or against. Rather, it is a survey on how we creatively imagine these romances to play out. I am currently looking at incestuous romances as they occur in television, film, novels, novellas, manga, and graphic novels.  The some of the current relationships under question are siblings, twins, uncle and niece, cousins, and the shaky step-relation.

haha incest

The meme makes light of an otherwise commonly grim concern – generally – for many people while capitalizing on Star Wars fandom. Without much effort, we could find expansive conversations where fans debate the potential romantic relationship between Luke and Leia despite the romantic conclusion of Leia and Han Solo’s pairing at the end of Episode VI. With the new lead Rei’s missing parents a hot question amongst fans, we see this conversation come up yet again. Yet despite the heat generated in these conversations, it’s a minor concern as we bite our fingers in anticipation of more information on this new group of sith lords wreaking havoc on the galaxy.

Stepping back from Star Wars, however, the taboo against incest is well observed and quickly jumped upon when any relationship bubbles up into the public sphere. All well and good and a concern for an entirely different project. Despite the relatively scary conversation that happens in real life, a cursory glance at work we give high school students to read such as The God of Small Things, The Metamorphosis, and the programs we air on television such as A Game of Thrones and Card Captor Sakura lead me to believe that incest is that horrendous. And I think the porn companies would agree with me. And the fandoms.

My preliminary observations haven’t revealed anything particularly astounding, although works have started to reveal trends. Some works have the anti-incest agenda slathered across all of its writing, with the clearest example found in Flowers in the Attic. These texts treat incest as the main subject matter, and are the ones that offer a – oftentimes problematic – stance. It is most certainly the case that the family is suffering, but all the pain we see comes from the paranoia and greed of the grandmother and mother. Alternatively, Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary throws away all paranoia and illustrates us a narrative where brother and sister have to escape not only divine Christian judgement for their love, but a messy revolution that takes places over a series of reincarnations. Setsuna and Sara are most certainly the core of our concerns, and the heaven and hell war narrative only pushes the readers towards a peaceful resolution for them.

Works that treat incest alongside a host of other taboos are less explicit. Yun Kouga’s Earthian concerns itself with combating homosexuality, and incest comes up as another taboo amongst other characters. The repetition of arguments in defense of homosexuality get most notably re-appropriated by Lucifel in her defense of her affections for Michael, her twin brother. Elvira’s rapid physical growth in response to her love for her father can be juxtaposed as a romance without a need for arguments. Every imagined stance can be contested in these works. More stateside narratives show similar narrative practices. Game of Thrones most certainly draws us in over and over with Cersei and Jamie’s romance, but beyond intentionally vague arguments Cersei makes over the seasons, the writing reveals no inherent judgement on her relationship. It’s difficult for a host of very obvious reasons, not because it’s deemed as evil as a certain village of systematic incestuous rape (granted the village gets treated like a problem-of-the day rather than a consistent subplot).

Finally we have works that just have incestuous relationships but leaves them ignore or vague. Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things doesn’t particularly care that the twins sleep together, but does care about how their personal relationship changes in general. CLAMP’s Card Captor Sakura showered audiences with adorable outfits and sweet magical hijinks, but didn’t spend too much time on Tomoyo’s open love for Sakura. Incest is there yet it doesn’t have any weight as a narrative catalyst. A Marxist revolution and the chaos of a freed deck of destructive spirits seems to be a bigger concern.

It should be pretty obvious now that my research has largely divided itself into Eastern and Western thinking. As it stands, the cultural differences between the two – incredibly generalized – spheres of thought have not clashed in these preliminary notes. I have yet to decide where there is a space for fan works in general, although I feel that there are strong merits to include the types of relationships fans are imagining/reading. My work now is the meticulous one of categorizing and wrapping my head around the research of other writers. If anyone has questions or suggestions (even as we are about to jump into the new semester) I would be eager to hear them.

Final Research Update–Kristi Fleetwood

In the beginning, I struggled to find adequate material on role model studies, but I eventually was able to use a combination of girlhood studies and first-hand accounts about Wonder Woman as a role model to construct my argument for powerless Diana Prince (1968-1972) as a feminist role model for young girls.

My interest in this time period came from the first issue of Ms., the feminism magazine created under the direction of noted feminist Gloria Steinem. On the July 1972 cover, a Godzilla-sized Wonder Woman stormed through a city street. Within the magazine, Joanne Edgar praised this version of Wonder Woman as an irresistible “role model” (Edgar 52), but the Wonder Woman on the cover, the Wonder Woman who would become closely tied to feminism, was not the Wonder Woman within the current comics. The Wonder Woman, drawn in replica from the original Wonder Woman of Edgar and Steinem’s childhood, had been absent from the comics since 1968 when Wonder Woman renounced her title, gave up her super powers, and returned to living among “man” as a powerless Diana Prince. To feminist of this time (and many scholars who have studied her), this meant Diana Prince was incapable of aligning with feminism. However, the evidence of this argument relies on surface level analysis of Diana Prince’s depiction. Using a feminist historical analysis of Diana Prince’s portrayal within the comics, I argue for her portrayal being a blossoming representation of the 1970’s Second Wave feminism.

My paper is doing two things. First, it argues Diana Prince as feminist. Second, it argues that because of this portrayal, Diana Prince can be considered a feminist girlhood role model. Within the second part of my argument, I feel I could have extra data research to bolster my argument. To continue this research further, I would like to get my hands on all the comic books from this time in their original form. There are three main things I want to look at: write-ins, surveys, and advertisements. The write-ins to see what girls, and boys, were saying about the change; I have three of the comics from the period, and not many girls’ letters were being published within the comics. The surveys to see how many girl readers were being polled, and finally, the advertisements to see whom the publishers thought their intended audience would be. I also want to see the circulation data to see if the sale numbers increased in the 1960s as much as people report it did. While DC does not have specified demographic data, the overall circulation numbers can represent how well the Diana Prince era was doing in comparison to the 1950s comics where Wonder Woman was being pulled further into the home and out of her uniform.



For this class, I also worked on revising a second project. I focused more of my attention on my Wonder Woman research, but I have being getting ready to sit down and actually begin restructuring the paper. Currently, it is a literary analysis with a lot of medical backing, but I am transitioning it to focus on close reading for trauma.


Here’s a little abstract of it I did for a conference submission:

In Freud in Oz (2011), Kenneth B. Kidd discusses the intersection of psychoanalysis and children’s and YA literature. He makes a case for the ways in which young adult literature begins to overlap with trauma literature, reading adolescence itself as a time of trauma. He also asserts that in young adult literature the expectations of gender and sexuality are intimately tied to the formation of an adolescent’s interior self. Using Kidd’s research as a jumping-off point, this paper offers a case study of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls. In Wintergirls, the protagonist, Lia, copes with her best friend’s death and struggles with her body. She demonstrates repetitive self-mutilation syndrome as she alternates between anorexia and cutting.

Lia’s abjection (seen in her anorexia, cutting, and dissociation from reality) is couched in the language of trauma. The association between abjection and trauma leads to the formation of Lia’s interior self. My paper examines the ways in which Lia’s repetitive self-mutilation is a search for “control” of the disconnection from herself as well as others. I focus on the external and internal “balance” of Lia’s repetitive self-mutilation as well as the maternal influence on Lia’s abjection.



So to prepare to transition the paper, I’ve been reading resources that can help to support my argument, especially sources on trauma in children’s literature (any sources you can recommend, or think are interesting, even if it isn’t related to this specific paper would be great. I’m finding the trauma studies info extremely interesting, so recommend away). A lot of the sources I have read deal with trauma in association with war zones (a lot written on the Holocaust), but my study is more focused on the more every day type of trauma. And what it means for her abjection to be imbedded in this language of trauma, and how the two interact on this level.

I’m excited to work on this paper over break. I’m trying to figure out how exactly to go about re-writing it. While I have a current outline and have gone through and pinpointed what I need to keep and what I need to get rid of for my current argument, I still think it might be better to go through and re-write it completely, pulling from the old paper when needed.

Hope everyone is enjoying their break!



Post about research/project – Chelsie

My research has allowed me to learn a multitude of information about how the classroom should revolve around diversity and how to facilitate cultural inclusion in a lesson plan. Ultimately, it’s never too early for school aged children to learn about the importance of diversity within the classroom. People often underestimate the intelligence of children, and the influence that literature can have on their perception of others.


It is imperative that children are able to see a representative of themselves in the literature that they read. Literature also has the power to transform children’s perception of the world. The importance of a child being able to relate to the positive characters in a book can facilitate strong self-esteem, decrease bullying, and help children be okay with those who may be different than them. Unfortunately, a lot of children’s literature is not equally represented amongst all races.


My research analyzes how teachers and parents are probably the most responsible for teaching children about the importance of having non-stereotypical depictions within literature. Additionally, when teachers are conscious of their own biases or stereotypical views, they are able to make the proper adjustments to their curriculum in order to effectively include all children and their cultures in their lessons.


When all cultures are included, it teaches children that there is not a difference in value of one over the other. Additionally, when children are taught from an early age about diversity, they will not have to question the inclusion of others or why some races may feel as though there are negative biases towards them, because they will already have an understanding of the topic. Overall, my paper is a call to action for all types of educators to really make a difference in the way diversity is brought into the classroom. Literature is highly influential on a child’s development, and I advocate for educators to utilize literature to discourage stereotypes and biases that may be harmful.

Method – Unsettling Narratives

Through an extensive study of indigenous writing, Clare Bradford attempts to lay bare the complex ways in which indigenous writers resist the systematic colonization of their culture. This arises from a core concern she bring up early on where “the fact that non-Indigenous people learn about Indigenous people largely through representations produced [. . .] through “stories told by former colonists” means that Indigenous cultures and people are generally the objects of discourse and not their subjects” (10). This core concern sweeps throughout her primary analysis of Indigenous novels – for kids and adults, and all in Australia. She easily sets up her conversation to include race, language, Eurocentrism, whiteness, canon, and concerns with assimilation. The primary readings are littered throughout the text and those are fairly generative, but also unfortunately short, as hardly any text gets more than two paragraphs before we move on. For me, however, it is her discussion of resistances to method and cautionary asides that I found most interesting.

Bradford’s first chapter concerns itself with a discussion on the impacts of images and language as they function as true/respectful/accurate/responsible vehicles towards representing Indigenous people. Yet before she can dive into her sources, she points out from a reading of Langston that “it is not the case that texts by Indigenous writers always produce “better” representations of Indigenous peoples and cultures than those by non-Indigenous writers [. . .] because there is no single “correct” mode of being Aboriginal” (11-12). This claim is almost obvious, that to imagine that any one narrative – presumably a good/accurate one – could actually encompass the entirety of Indigenous people is obviously absurd (although she does acknowledge that Indigenous writers are in a position to write with greater awareness). Yet Bradford, as she tackles writing that resists and grapples with a systematic colonization of people, offsets her reading with this cautionary claim. It is a very responsible move, and attempts to address an imagined need/impulse to accept single narratives as all encompassing, even as it does justice for the group it discusses. This cautionary moment puts more value in her many primary readings, even as they present potentially conflicting messages.

Bradford, like many of our other thinkers, tackles the discomfort surrounding discussions of race/class/gender quite succinctly as she notes “there is no such thing as an innocent text, that all texts are informed by ideologies, some overt but others implicit and often invisible to authors and illustrators” (14-15). Like we’ve been noting throughout our discussions, this seems to be another moment in which a need to affirm studies of children’s lit arises. Bradford does, however, add more nuance to this sentiment as she quotes Ashcroft to say “meaning is achieved constitutively as a product of the dialogic situation of reading” (15). The reminder that writers, illustrators, and readers all individual influence the meaning of the texts reminds us of the complexity of children’s lit., even more specifically those that are meant to openly resist norms of colonization.

But again, nothing particularly new. That is, however, until she notes that “judgments of quality in children’s literature frequently rely on naturalized notions about literariness” and that “such ideas are problematic [. . .] because they rely on a bundle of assumptions derived from Western notions of literary quality” (15-16). Here is where Bradford addresses a new deconstructive approach to Indigenous writing. Namely, our assumptions and discussion surrounding quality inherently assume a (white, European) Western bias for our narratives.

This focus on the assumptions of theory were particularly interesting. Bradford writes that “a crucial problem in postcolonial theory lies in how resistance is understood – as a collision of force and counter-force” (20). The assumption that resistance needs to relatively clear and confrontational – at the very least defiant – behavior problematizes passive methods and imagines the quite resistance as meaningless silence. Bradford is fully committed to tackling this issue, and structures much of her primary reading to acknowledge these passive forms of resistance.

Bradford’s second chapter addresses critically the loss of language as a tragedy of colonization. Tracing a history of Indigenous publishing and publishing house behaviors, she grapples with a rather unique issues that oral traditions present. Again, Bradford reminds us of the troubles of Western-dominated narrative thinking as it attempts to transcribe old narratives. Issues of categorized, with different narratives following different forms of oral tradition become messy as accurate tools for representation in translation.

Unsettling Narratives does a lot of what we have already seen, but Bradford pushes us to acknowledge the man ingrained Western assumptions we have about our narratives. Her observations are incredibly nuanced, and do a great job of restructuring future discussions of race.

Dear America and The Royal Diaries as “Settling Narratives” (Primary Post)

In Bradford’s gloss of Lynne Cheney and Robin Priess Glasser’s America: A Patriotic Primer, Bradford explains that Cheney and Glasser’s examples of Native Americans – Pocahontas, Sequoyah, Tecumseh and Sacajawea – cast Indigenous people in the United States as “friends and helpers to the colonists” and as an “assimilated, docile presence within the nation” (2). What A Patriotic Primer doesn’t provide is the reality of “colonized people displaced by waves of settlers” (1). 

Bradford looks primarily at texts where the reality of colonization is displaced through the use of the “romanticization” of native people, and through transforming native people into the aforementioned friendly, docile, assimilated presence. In this post on primary texts, I wanted to draw our attention to a corpus of texts that I think does similar work – it emphasizes USian exceptionalism and uses strategies of forgetting – while at the same time providing the reality – or at least, a pseudo-reality – of “colonized people displaced by waves of settlers.” I speak, of course, of my childhood companions: the Dear America series and the Royal Diaries.

The Dear America series and the Royal Diaries were both put out by Scholastic Press in the late 1990s. Each of the Dear America books is written as a diary from the perspective of a young woman living through a significant period of US history (the revolution, the civil war, the sinking of the titanic etc.). Each of the Royal Diaries is written as a diary from the perspective of a known “princess” during her teenage years (the future queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, Nzingha, Mary, Queen of Scots etc.)

There are thirty six books in the original Dear America series (it was relaunched in 2010), and twenty in the Royal Diaries series. The books that include Native American protagonists are:

  1. My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose, a Sioux Girl, Carlisle Indian School, Pennsylvania, 1880, by Anne Rinaldi
  2. The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow: The Diary of Sarah Nita, a Navajo Girl, New Mexico, 1864, by Ann Turner
  3. Kaiulani: The People’s Princess, Hawaii, 1889 by Ellen Emerson White
  4. Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets, Massachusetts-Rhode Island, 1653 by Patricia Clark Smith
  5. Lady of Palenque: Flower of Bacal, Mesoamerica, A.D. 749 by Anna Kirwan
  6. Anacaona: Golden Flower, Haiti, 1490 by Edwidge Danticat

Of these six books, only one – Lady Of Palenque – does not center around colonial violence and the colonial displacement of indigenous people. My Heart is on the Ground takes place at the Carlisle Indian School, founded by Richard Henry Pratt, whose motto for the school was “Kill the Indian, Save the Child”; the protagonist of The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow is one of the people forcibly removed by federal forces onto a reservation through the trail of tears. Kaiulani, Weetamoo and Anacaona are all indigenous leaders who (unsuccessfully) fought colonial expansion in the Americas.


Nor are these books that shy away from portraying colonial violence. Kaiulani: The People’s Princess portrays both Kaiulani’s attempts to stop the USA from annexing Hawaii and the injustice of the colonial state’s refusal to negotiate with her. Anacaona depicts the brutality of the european invaders of Haiti: readers see the invaders murdering children, shooting civilians and cutting off indigenous peoples’ hands. In My Heart is on the Ground, several of Nannie’s friends die at the Carlisle Indian School, while others run due to the violence of the teaching techniques. And obviously, The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow centers around one of the most infamous examples of colonial violence in USian history – the trail of tears. One could argue, thus, that these books are exceptions to the trend Bradford identities – that they are trying to remember the colonial violence that shaped the United States, rather than trying to repress this history in order to build a narrative of american exceptionalism.

Yet although these books certainly do not romanticize colonial violence, if we look below the surface, they also seem to be working towards a project of indigenous assimilation. On an editorial level, all of the Royal Diaries (with the exception of Lady Of Palenque) portray native civilizations that are on the verge of being destroyed, conquered or displaced. Even if some of the books, like Weetamoo and Kaiulani, do not show the death of their heroine in the narrative, the reader needs only flip a few pages to the historical note to discover how the protagonist died, and to learn about the conquest and displacement of the protagonists’ people by the colonial state. On one level, these texts create sympathy for these indigenous heroes, and turning to the historical note may lead readers to question the colonial apparatus that led to their death. By sympathizing (through fiction) with an indigenous hero, a reader may be more likely to question ideologies like american exceptionalism and manifest destiny. On another level, however, these historical notes create a sense of the inevitability of colonialism. No matter how intelligent, how brave, how resourceful and strategic these leaders are, they all fail. And since three of the four indigenous leaders in the Royal Diaries *do* fail (and the last one lives too early to ever encounter the colonial apparatus), the meta-narrative these diaries construct is one where colonialism is a historical certainty, and anyone who opposes it is doomed to tragic failure. They can be sympathetic, yes – but they cannot stop the march of “manifest destiny.” So while individually, each of these texts may post a challenge to the colonial apparatus, taken together, they simply reinforce the power of the colonial state, and the inevitability of the conquest of indigenous people.

Ann Rinaldi’s My Heart Is on the Ground: The Diary of Nannie Little Rose takes the “inevitability” of manifest destiny to the extreme.



Throughout the entire book, both in terms of plot and on the meta level of Ann Rinaldi and Scholastic’s editorial decisions, what comes through is the inevitability of whiteness and white assimilation. While the Carlisle Indian School’s methods are depicted as brutal, the school is, in the end, portrayed as the only good option for native children. Children who refuse to assimilate either die, or inevitably change their minds. When Nannie Little Rose’s brother runs away from Carlisle, he eventually comes back, having realized that Carlisle is the best option for him (a completely unrealistic scenario, given that nearly 2,000 of the school’s 10,000 students ran away, never to return). The character with the closest connection to her native heritage, Lucy Pretty Eagle, has an epileptic fit while she is attempting to go into a spirit trance; the teachers mistake her epilepsy for death and bury her while she is still alive. The message is clear: white culture will destroy any attempts to remain close to one’s native heritage. The school is portrayed as a positive experience for most children. The book’s proofreader, Genevieve Bell, even remarked on this tendency when she finished proofreading, telling the editor:

At some points the diary reads almost as an apology for assimilation, as though being at Carlisle, while painful and unpleasant,was ultimately a good thing. I am not sure that this is the tone that Ann Rinaldi wants to strike, nor am I certain it is the experience of most Carlisle students (…) This was a project and an agenda that many Native Americans actively resisted at the time and remain highly critical of today. I think perhaps your author’s note needs to acknowledge that Ann Rinaldi is not Native American, and that there were many different ways to be at Carlisle of which Nannie’s is just one. Many students did not want to be school teachers, they did not want to be pilgrims, they did not want to be in school. They wanted to be in their homes, in their communities, with their families. And many of their descendants are very angry about the ways that parents and grandparents were denied their own culture. Most Native Americans would not like to see their ancestors’ experiences written about this way (…) the consensus is that this was not a good place and that the best we can do about it now is celebrate the students who survived with their cultural identity intact and mourn those who did not. I am not sure that this diary does either of those things. ( )

Ann Rinaldi’s author note is takes the inevitability of whiteness to the extreme. She visited the Carlisle Indian School, including the school’s cemetery and saw:

“dozens of white headstones bearing the names of Native-American children from all tribes who had died while at the school. The names, with the tribes inscribed underneath, were so lyrical that they leapt out at me and took on instant personalities. Although many of these children attended Carlisle at dates later than that of my story, I used some of their names for classmates of Nannie Little Rose. … I am sure that in whatever Happy Hunting Ground they now reside, they will forgive this artistic license, and even smile upon it.” (my emphasis)

As many, many commenters have pointed out, Ann Rinaldi’s act of appropriation in choosing to use the names of real children who died at Carlisle without the permission of their descendants or their tribes is deeply offensive. To retroactively give herself permission by creating a racist fantasy in which these children give consent from the “Happy Hunting Ground” – a symbol, as Bradford would point out, not of actual native culture, but of a white fantasy and appropriation of native culture – serves as a further act of appropriation. Here, the role of Native people – of real, native children – is to become part of a white fantasy, to help play a role in ultimately celebrating the school that cost them their lives. In the most vivid example of the tendency I’ve been chronicling, colonial violence against native people helps enact a form of colonial apologia, by showing the inevitability of the colonial expansion. The dead children are mourned in the text, yes, but the creation of America – and of Nannie Little Rose’s assimilation – is celebrated.

Together, all of these texts, while acknowledging the atrocity of colonial violence, also enact a form of colonial apologia and reinforce the “myth of the (USA’s) own foundation” – manifest destiny (Bradford 5).

Sources for the controversy around My Heart Is On The Ground:

  1. Blog post from Genevieve Bell, Ann Rinaldi’s fact-checker, who encouraged her not to use the dead children’s names.
  2. A Critical Review of Ann Rinaldi’s My Heart is On The Ground. 
  3. Goals for Writing and Reviewing Books With Native American Themes 

A little Alexie extra reading

In The Absolutely True Diary, Mary Runs Away writes enthusiastically to Junior about the telephone in the bathroom of her honeymoon hotel room:  “It’s on Flathead Lake and we had a suite, a hotel room with its own separate bedroom!  And there was a phone in the bathroom! Really! I could have called you from the bathroom.”

This poem looks at that same detail in a totally different mode.  I thought it might be a nice complement to our reading to see another facet of Alexie’s voice.

An Absolutely True Primary Post about the Absolutely True Diary

My mother-in-law is staying with me this weekend. She is a clinical social worker at an in-patient crisis unit for teens and children in Washington County, Maine, the poorest of Maine’s numerous poor, rural counties. It’s up on the Canadian border and virtually the only opportunities for employment are small-scale fishing and the blueberry crop, neither of which provides more than a meager income.

I bring her up because she was describing life in her town, which is sandwiched between two Passamaquoddy reservations, and on her unit, which treats numerous children and teenagers from these communities. While at the clinic, kids don’t have access to phones, the internet, or TV (beyond a group movie screening on the weekend), and she was explaining that they read voraciously–though large books are used less often for reading than for “paper ball tennis,” which is exactly what it sounds like, though perhaps more bloodthirsty than you’d expect. I was asking about what kinds of books they have on the unit, and it’s basically a potpourri of whatever is donated to them. She was really excited to hear about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, because she feels they don’t have anything that directly speaks to the experiences of her Passamaquoddy clients and she intends to buy a copy for the unit.

While I wholeheartedly endorsed the book, particularly for its humor and its frankness about topics that adults often hedge about when speaking with children or teens–death, addiction, racism, etc.–there’s a small voice in the back of my head that wonders who this book was written for, and what it means for young Native American readers. I don’t know if I would’ve had this question had we not read the selections from Bradford’s Unsettling Narratives. I was so struck by author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s discussion of self-censorship, and particularly her questions quoted in Chapter 2: “Is there any place in children’s books for writing that reflects Native idiosyncracies? Or rather, if diversity of voice matters at all, does it only apply to diversity that appeals to the mainstream audience?”

This issue of “diversity that appeals to the mainstream audience” popped into my mind every so often when I was reading The Absolutely True Diary. Arnold/Junior’s clarifying “That’s about the worst thing you can do to an Indian guy” about Rowdy’s braid-cutting, or how common his nickname is among Native Americans seem like explanations included for a presumed non-Native audience. And while I think that having this book on my mother-in-law’s unit will benefit Passamaquoddy and non-Passamaquoddy clients alike, I have to shake my head a bit at the idea that Native American readers can only read Native American stories when the publishing industry deems them interesting enough/accessible enough for a white audience as well.

(I also realize that this is somewhat counter to the spirit of Alexie’s poetic musing later in the book about how he is a member of many of humanity’s different tribes. I don’t think he expects or wants this book to speak ONLY to Native American young adults.)

I was also thinking in particular about the Passamaquoddy girls on my mother-in-law’s unit reading this book, and what they might think of it. I tend to read a book and notice its treatment of female characters first, and in many ways I think Alexie does a wonderful job. Considering we get them only through Arnold/Junior’s perspective, I think his sister and his grandmother come across with great depth. I flinched a bit at Penelope’s characterization, though. Readers know little more about Penelope than her beauty, and her bulimia is a convenient shorthand for the universality of pain (and he characterizes it in terms of addiction, which is not quite right) and it’s never mentioned again.

Again, I know it’s not realistic for Alexie to give every character and every situation in this book the vibrant, layered treatment he gives Arnold. But this is a book for young adults, and some young adults are young women. Native American teen girls may see aspects of their culture reflected in this book, but not their gendered experience. And other books that reflect their gendered experience will almost certainly not reflect their culture, given publishing trends. What I am left with is all the more conviction that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an excellent book, but a book that should be surrounded with shelves and shelves of other excellent books that reflect more Native American experiences, amid a library of truly diverse literature for children and young adults.

Adding a Disability Perspective When Reading Adolescent Literature

Brian Ripley Crandall adds an insightful lense of which to view, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Crandall has the readers examine what it must fee like to be a child with a disability, of whom already has a lot going against him/her, and yet the system in which they are supposed to thrive, is the very same one that is letting them down. Crandall uses The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to look at what it means to be “normal” and “able”.


Crandall discusses how Arnold’s disability is second to the success he achieves throughout the books. Between Arnold’s heritage and his disability, a picture is really painted as to how divided the educational system truly is in America. The inherent structure of the school system on the reservation sets the Indian children up for failure. Between the textbooks that are 30 years old, and the white teachers who were taught to break the students down and strip them of their culture in order to make them a “better child.” Crandall makes a parallel between how the reservation school systems are set up, to the way in which many children with disabilities are taught in marginalized classrooms. The denial of an equitable education for Arnold, is a metaphor for the denial that children with disabilities have at a fair chance at education due to exclusion from better classes and schools.


Crandall gives us a side-by-side of the medical model for disabilities and the socially constructed model, which raise awareness to the true intentions of the “special” education system. He then raises a call to arms for educators, stating that we need to be cognizant of the socially constructed model. As educators it is important to acknowledge that many students may come from disregarded populations and the curriculum that is taught to these children can be faciliatating that environment. Whereas, froma medical perspective, we need to stop thinking that because a child has a disability, they need to be diagnosed, quarantined and fixed in order to get them to be as close to normal as possible. “The argument can be made that a mecial model for treating disability as abmormal is similar to creating Indian reservations designed to keep Native Americans from the rest of society.”


I believe in Crandall’s analysis of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian he does a good job of providing the perspective of a child with disabilities. The book is a great tool for educators to draw from Arnold’s life, along with the wide range of difficulties that Arnold faces. Crandall touches on the fact that those who may have a disability, or those who are a minority, or of the majority, can learn from Arnold’s story and really get a dialogue started. I know that his focus is on children of disabilities, however he does mention several times the inherent racism of the school system that Arnold faces, but does little to expand on how hard it is for Arnold to be of not one, but two minorities, and still overcome the obstacles he endures. Or that it took a white man telling him that he could be great despite all of the things that were going againt him for Arnold to realize his true potential. With all of that being said, I still think that Crandall does a great job of bringing attention to an issue that deserves and needs awareness.

The Absolutely True Diary of Part Time Indian–Methods

Somewhere along the way, children’s literature and ya lit got misunderstood as “fluff” for children, and it’s one-dimensional and can’t represent any real social problems that young adults face. Obviously. And even in the more complex contemporary literature, you do get less complex narratives because they are more focused on middle-class story (think The Fault in Our Stars, which I still managed to cry over like most other humans). But Alexie gives us more than the stereotype. There’s a disability narrative, a trauma narrative, a racial narrative, a poverty narrative, and the list goes on and on and on. He weaves all this into an endearing 14 year old kid who really highlights how excruciatingly painful it is for anyone that does not fit into the heteronormative, white, middle-class story has to endure more in order to find where he belongs.

Take Mr. P, he’s an older white man with a position of power (as a teacher). Through his interaction with Junior, we learn about Mr. P’s guilt for coming to the reservation originally to “kill the Indian culture” (Alexie 35), and he’s trying to redeem himself by forgiving Junior and encouraging him to have a better life. But this version of “better” is extremely skewed. Instead of showing up to class, taking an interest in teaching his students, fighting for an actual education system on the rez, Mr. P encourages Junior to leave the rez and go to an all white school. While he has stopped beating the children, he is still trying to “kill the Indian to save the child,” just in a new way. Instead of encouraging him to excel on the reservation, he is pushing him away form it into this white culture, as if the only way to be better is to get as close to “white” as possible.

Moments like this where he has this extra pressure on him to abandon his culture and community, a community he already has trouble feeling a part of, creates a lot of distress for Junior. One of the moments you really see it is when he’s talking about his brain flooding.   He’s at the powwow with Rowdy, but he “wanted no part of it” to begin with because “[t]hose rhythmless, talentless, tuneless Indians are most likely going to get drunk and beat the shit out of any available losers. And [Junior is] always the most available loser” (17).   This fear is realized when three adult men beat him up. When Rowdy is checking on him and his brain, Junior thinks about how if he had been punched in the skull, he could “have flooded out the entire powwow” (21). So this condition of his brain sets him apart already—and not just in the medical sense, he also appears far more intelligent than others he encounters on the reservation—but when it is emphasized that he isn’t a part of the community, like when the Andersons beat him up, he is worried his differences will destroy his ties to the community he was born into, and leave him with nothing to connect him.

Junior also uses this “flooding” imagery to describe why he draws: “I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats” (6). If the world is flooded because he struggles to connect with his community, he uses these drawings to understand and communicate because words fail him. He already has an established connection to the community through drawings because of Rowdy. One of the main components of their friendship is comic books, and Rowdy is much more, in Junior’s mind, the stereotypical Indian who lives on the reservation. By having drawings connect him to Rowdy, he has a concrete connection to life on the reservation. Granted, that connection is temporarily lost, but he is able to find it again.


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian – Method (Chelsie)

I suppose I should start by saying that I loved The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney provided an excellent story accompanied by equally excellent illustrations. Alexie provides a perspective of what it’s like to be a 14-year-old teenage boy who comes from a Native American reservation, which is semi-biographical, being that the reservation that he describes is the same one that he is from.

Much like the protagonist, Arnold Spirit Jr, Alexi was also named after his father. Some additional parallels between Arnold’s life and Alexi’s were that they both suffered from an excess amount of cerebral fluid in their brains as infants, which required surgery to be preformed, their fathers were both alcoholics, and they were both star basketball players after going to school off of the reservation.

As we walk through Arnold’s life, we meet the members of his family, of whom he loves dearly. We also meet his best friend Rowdy, of whom Arnold feels the closest with. Rowdy was more than Arnold’s best friend, he was his protector, and his companion. They seem to be complete opposites, whereas Arnold was fragile and not afraid to express his emotions, Rowdy had this “tough” appearance on the outside, and was supposedly even tougher on the inside. With that being said, Rowdy and Arnold mean the world to one another. Arnold likes to do things that make Rowdy happy, and loves to hear him laugh, wheras Rowdy is somewhat of Arnold’s night in shining armor, who is always there when Arnold needs him most. Evidence of that appears in the third chapter when Arnold states, “I think Rowdy might be the most important person in my life. Maybe more important than my family. Can your best friend be more important than your family?”

Additonally, Rowdy has a habit of making homophobic jokes or comments towards Arnold, which makes one wonder if he is trying to suppress homophobic feelings of his own? When Arnold asks him for love advice, or confesses that he has a crush on a girl at school, Rowdy instantly shuts him down and discourages Arnold from the affectionate feelings he has for girls.

Arnold’s continuous comments about his teenage hormones for females are surely alive and well. The word “boner” is generously referenced throughout the book surprisingly in many different ways. He talks of masturbation and other typical tribulations that a 14-year-old teenage boy will go through.

As we walk through many days in the life of a young boy from the Spokane Indian Reservation, some of the harshest realities become relevant in his story. We learn of the extreme poverty that plauges many Indian reservations. And that the money that so many people think Indians are receiving from the government, is simply not reality. For goodness sakes, the children that were in the school systems today are using the same textbooks that their parents used when they were in school! We also learn that drinking alchohol frequently is the norm for those who live on the reservation. Most people drink past the point of intoxicated and make poor decisions that they can’t take back.

Alexie walks us through the inherent racism of the towns that are near the reservation, and within the reservation itself. He showed us the beauty of reading through one of Arnold’s closest and most intelligent friends, Gordy. Gordy taught Arnold a lot, but one of the most important things that he said was, “Listen… You have to read a book three times before you know it. The fist time you read it or the story. The plot. The movement from scene to scene that gives the book its momentum, its rhythm. Its like riding a raft down a river. Youre just paying attention to the currents… The second time you read a book, you read it for its history. For its knowledge of history. You think about the meaning of each word, and where that word came from…”

When his newly formed white friends from Reardan discover that Arnold is poor, and that he often walks of hitchhikes to/from school, we discover what it means to have amazing friends who took the time to get to know the outsider Indian boy from the reservation. But we also are able to see the unity and support that Arnold’s family provides for him. He compares his alcoholic father, who disappears from time to time, to the white fathers who Arnold notices he never sees supporting their children. He realizes that those who come from the Indian reservation may not be perfect, but they are loyal to those they love.

I found this book to be strong because Alexie shows every angle of what it means to be in Arnold’s shoes. He enriched our minds about the trials and tibulations that Indians are still facing due to the colonization of their land. A range of issues are addressed, such as racism, bulimia, poverty, homophobia, death, addiction, and more. This book truly takes you on a whirlwind of emotions.