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.