The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Book Review – Ignacio Benito


Ignacio Benito


English Class 332

20  September  2016

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Book Review


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a superb example of how a true bildungsroman should look like. The author of this exemplary novel is Sherman Alexie, an award-winning poet, and writer with film production also under his belt. Born on October 7, 1966, he has written many award-winning poems include The Business of Fancy dancing  (1992) and First Indian on the Moon  (1993) while other works like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian have won prizes like the National Book Award. Sherman   This incredible novel focuses on the life of a young Native American called Arnold Spirit who is bombarded with the arduous challenges that teenage -hood presents. He suffers from a server condition hydrocephalus which causes his head to swell and his eyesight becomes impaired. He is mocked  Furthermore, his father is an Alcoholic who squanders most of his earning on booze, and his surrounding community is plagued by conformism and alcoholism. As young Arnold realizes that his life on the reservation is heading down the same road as those around him he applies to an all white school located in the closest town outside the reservation. Reardon High, a school only attended by white students cause young Arnold to face prejudice due to his ethnicity and


condition. Here he is greeted with hostility, but he soon realizes that he will face the same feelings at home. No friends, no one to support him, no one to believe in him, he has never been more alone; and this is only the beginning for young Arnold as he transcends teenage hood.


     Arnold, a young teenager with no mentor or positive role model to follow; is forced to rely on himself and only on himself to make the right decisions in life . As mentioned before his father is a struggling alcoholic who disappears for days or weeks at a time, and then returns with quite a hefty hangover. Nonetheless, this was not always the case, Arnolds’ father wanted to become a famous Jazz player, someone, to fill the world with music and joy. Furthermore, his mother wanted to become a teacher, and she had the abilities to do it but both of them gave up “…All your friends gave up. All the bullies. And their mothers and fathers gave up, too…” (42). Like Arnold’s parents, everyone who surrounds him on a daily basis has given up on their dreams; and with no one to follow or look up to it’s not much of a surprise they did. Left alone in such a difficult world, Arnold is faced with the same decision that all others were presented with. Arnold will have to rely on himself to either give up his dreams or live  his life just like he aspires to.


As teenage hood falls upon Arnold, he begins to understand just how much his friends and peers impact his life. Rowdy, an abused child who has nothing joyful in his life is holding onto the smallest slither of happiness, and that slither happens to be Arnold. Just before he


started school at his new high school in Reardon he decided he would talk to his best friend; about this new stage in his life.  As the conversation dragged on Rowdy felt more betrayed , and as the last bit of happiness escaped his life Rowdy lost control “You always thought you were better than me! … I knew that my best friend had become my worst enemy” (53). Arnold had lost the only string that tied him to the reservation, and Rowdy had lost the only person that allowed him happiness in his miserable life. They both felt abandoned by the other, a lifelong friendship has broken in a matter of seconds. However, without this argument, Arnold might have never stayed in Reardon High, and the role that Rowdy played as his friend and as his peer is much more significant than it appears.


Despite his cultural and racial background and the expectations that come with it; Arnold defied them day after day with his actions and words. Repeatedly it is seen how Arnolds action defies the expectations based on his ethnicity and the stereotypes that are in placed to create those same expectations. Nothing much is expected of Arnold, no one with thinks he will turn into anyone important, and just another sad and alcoholic Native American.  Regardless of those expectations, Arnold endures through some of the toughest moments in his life to prove to himself and the people around him that he has yet to give up. Being surround by conformists, alcoholics, and dead dreams do not stop Arnold from achieving his goals; “I always knew you were going to leave us… You were standing on the Great Wall of China and you looked happy.” (229) Even though Arnold has yet to stand on the Great Wall of China he has sorrowed well above anything anyone expected from him, and he will continue so until he is happy. Arnold is


never held back by his ethnicity or culture; he instead embraces it and continues to defy those expectations.


While Arnold is often faced with great losses during his teenage-hood he also comes to discover an entirely new world as he being to grow up.  His life as a teenager is filled with discovery as he begins to mature on the reservation which gives him a new perspective on the outside world; while at the same time his interactions in Reardon open his eyes to the world that expects him in the future. His eyes are truly open when he thinks about his current situation “Poverty doesn’t teach you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” Poverty is something that Arnold is around every day of his life be it in Reardon or in the Reservation. He sees that poverty does not have any benefits and the life that he chooses to abandon when he transferred schools is one riddled with poverty.


        Branded as a traitor by his tribe, and being an outsider in Reardon he is torn apart by these two communities which he is exposed to on a daily basis.  A TV crew reporting on a Basketball match interviews Arnold as he is torn between his loyalty towards his hometown  and Reardon “I feel like this is the most important night of my life … I feel like I have to prove something to the people of Reardon, the people of Wellpinit …” (186). This night defines the feeling that separates him from his hometown or from the life he has begun in Reardon. Arnold is constantly forced to pick sides, but the life he lives is one filled with separation and abandonment. One where he does not belong, one where  he does not fit in.


An admirable piece of literature, this book is a most read for anyone interested in  coming of age novels.  Starting with the introduction of the setting and protagonist to the denouement leaving the reader craving for more, just goes to show how incredible this book is.  My personal experience with this book can only be described as positive, and I would gladly re-read this novel several times. As the protagonist progresses through the plot and becomes more aware of the world around him it is amazing to see how teenage-hood influences his decisions; which have major impacts on his life. To anyone looking for a simply good read or to delve into the mind of a teenager going through the toughest moment of his life, this is your best option.



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