Book Club: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie has a lot to say about poverty and what it means to be poor as well as what it means to be an Indian.

“Seriously, I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.”

“It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”

I really loved this novel. It was a wonderful and heartbreaking look into what it’s like to be a teenage boy living on an Indian reservation and going to a (presumably all) white school. The narrator, Arnold/Junior, describes how it felt not quite fitting in with the other Indians and not quite fitting in with the white kids at his school. He didn’t feel fully Indian and that was a struggle for him, but he also had big dreams of leaving the reservation and make something of himself.

Over the course of the school year, Arnold experienced a great deal of loss. But he gained a lot, too. I felt like I was learning and growing alongside him. Arnold had so much hope despite being surrounded by hopelessness. It was inspiring.

So many lines in the book struck me because of how poetic they were, which makes since because Sherman Alexie is also a poet. So many aspects of Indian life, like the way they grieve, were beautiful to me, but it was also very sad. The way alcohol is such a big factor in the lives (and deaths) of the people on the reservation was eye opening and sometimes heart shattering.

If you decide to read this book, pay attention to the moments that Arnold cries and the moments that Arnold laughs, because the things that he laughs and cries about and the way he deals with situations in his life are so incredibly lovely.

The characters were wonderful and it was such a unique Young Adult novel, far different from what I’m used to. I adore John Green, I really do, but teenagers don’t act that way in real life. Arnold was a real teenage boy, who masturbated frequently (“Naked woman + right hand = happy happy joy joy. If there were a professional masturbator’s league I’d get drafted number one and make millions of dollars”) and was embarrassed when he cried and punched people when they insulted his heritage. There was no emphasis on an overpowering love story. Arnold did get a sort-of girlfriend but it was pretty clear that they weren’t going to be together forever. It was fleeting. The emphasis of the novel was on Arnold’s hope and his big dreams, as well as the importance of friendship and looking past what a person looks or sounds like.

“The world is only broken into two tribes. The people who are assholes and the people who are not.”

This is one of my favorite lines from the book. At this moment, Arnold is realizing that he’s not so different from his friends at school, and that they’re all human beings and they care about him and vise versa. His whole life he’d been taught that Indians are different from other people, and he’d sometimes felt that white people were better than Indians. It took leaving the reservation to realize that he wasn’t different or less important from the rich white kids at his new school, or anyone for that matter. The people who treat others like they are less important are merely assholes.

Grandmother Spirit, Arnold’s grandma, is my favorite character apart from Arnold, which is weird because she’s not actually in the story, she’s only spoken about by Arnold. She’s an incredible woman whose tolerance is what Arnold admires most about her. The fact that her last message to her family was telling them to forgive the drunk driver who killed her made me love her that much more. I look up to people who have the ability to forgive when they have been so greatly wronged. And one of my favorite moments in the book was at her funeral, after the white man tried to wrongly return a Powwow dress to her family only to find that it wasn’t hers, causing the whole reservation to burst into laughter. It was a beautiful and unifying moment, one of the moments that shows how good life could be on an Indian reservation and what a strong bond they all have with each other.

What book should I read next?! Let me know down below!

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