The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Book Review
5/5 Stars ★★★★★
Sherman Alexie, the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a Native American novelist/poet. He was born on October 7, 1966.
Just like Arnold, the main character, Sherman grew up on an Indian reservation called the Spokane Indian Reservation located in Wellpinit, Washington (exactly where Arnold grew up). Also, like Arnold, he was born with hydrocephalus. This is a condition when a person has water inside their skull.
This book is written like a novel, as are many other books by Sherman Alexie. It shows the progression of Arnold, the protagonist, throughout his coming of age. It also shows how he matures and grows in independence, even when going through the death of his sister and his grandma. As the story beings, Arnold only has one close friend on the reservation and his name is Rowdy. Arnold and Rowdy have been friends for their whole life. They both grew up on the same reservation and they also went to the same school. Rowdy helps him on his coming of age journey by protecting Arnold from everything. When Arnold is bullied by 30 year-old triplets, Rowdy wanted to stand up for him; so that night, Rowdy tests his boundaries and sneaks into the triplets tent and cuts off their braids.
On the Wellpinit reservation and school, Arnold shapes his individual identity, by becoming part of a collective/cultural group. It is difficult for Arnold to live on the reservation. He is surrounded by poverty and his education was of poor quality. Arnold lost his temper when he realizes that his school still uses the same textbooks that were used by his mother. To Arnold, this means the school doesn’t care about the Native Americans education. When Arnold loses his temper at the realization that the books he is using, are over 30 years old, he throws the book at Mr. P, the teacher. Arnold is suspended for this action. Mr. P visited Arnold at home and explained what he did wrong. Mr. P suggests that Arnold should change schools and go to Reardan, an all white school. Mr. P said that was the only way that Arnold could make anything positive of his life. Switching to Rearden means changing his identity, leaving his Native American culture, and breaking his friendship with Rowdy. This friendship became almost impossible to salvage.
In the beginning of the book, Arnold is a young, naive, immature 14 year old that does not realize his limitations. In one case, his dog, Oscar was sick and at the point of no return. If Oscar was not taken to a doctor, which could around 1,000 US dollars, he would certainly die. Since their money, class and socioeconomic status is very low, they could not afford to take the dog to the vet. Arnold’s father got involved in the situation by shooting the dog, putting it out of its misery. Arnold fights with his dad and attempts to force him to pay the money to save the dog, not realizing that he cannot even afford food. The dad gets the gun, and shoots the dog, killing it. Arnold gets extremely angry, but at the same time, he realizes that he is lucky that he has a chance at a better life. He choses not to be a drunk or drugs user like everyone around him. Arnold also went through several other problems due to his low socioeconomic status. One of them was losing his relationship with Penelope, his semi-girlfriend, this was because he went out with other kids to Reardan, and he had no money.
Arnold has many negative role models which could affect him. Arnold feels like it is a gift when his dad or mom comes home sober. They are almost always drunk, drinking alcohol all day. This family’s alcoholism causes Arnold to go through many sad events that a child should not have to deal with. For example, his sister died in a fire because she was too drunk to wake up. She dies right after she was married and moved away to live in a “luxury” trailer. Eugene, Arnold’s fathers best friend, was not a positive role model because he was a all drunk and drove his motorcycle when he should not have. He put other people in danger by driving drunk. Eugene is shot in the parking lot of a 7-11. Arnold did not only have negative role models. Mr. P was a role model when he suggests that Arnold should go to Reardan to receive a higher quality education.
In the end, Arnolds coming of age is very different that it could have been as he goes through many experiences that were unplanned. He is a risk-taker and rebelled against his tribe, just to go to another school. He also seemed to partially restore his friendship by playing basketball with Rowdy, but this was only because the two of them were extremely bored and had nothing else to do. Unfortunately though, Arnold still experiences great losses, like his sister and grandma dying; but after all, Arnold grows up not having any drug or alcohol issues. He wanted to have a different life than the people who stayed on the reservation.