Sherman Alexie: Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Of all of the books that I have read so far for this adolescent literature course, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, makes me want to run to my administration and demand that they allow me to use this book as required reading.  I understand that required reading is not preferable to all students, but this book has so much to offer my students that required reading of this book as a class along with independent reading would greatly help to develop some of my reluctant readers.  I think this book could help several of my students in many, MANY areas.

Sherman Alexie bases the book on some of his own experiences.  Those experiences mirror the lives of my students.  Several of my students have asked me if I had seen Smoke Signals, a movie written by Sherman Alexie, as they said to me, “It is what being Indian is like.”   There are obvious differences between the book and the lives of my students, but there are too many similarities with Arnold’s (and for that matter, Rowdy’s) struggles: with being a teen; with cultural values and cultural differences; with poverty; with the educational system; and with the challenge of friendship, to ignore the benefits of reading and discussing this book.  I think that the only way my students could relate to this book more would be if they attended school in Reardan, WA rather than Martin, SD and belonged to the Spokane rather than Lakota Tribe.

One of many life changing topics discussed in this book is the loss of life due to alcohol.  Misuse of alcohol kills Arnold’s relatives, friends, —and as he argues— his tribe.  Having witnessed a handful of alcohol related incidents on our school property (or within throwing distance) I know it would be better for my students to discuss the struggle of addiction  rather than to continue to ignore the very real epidemic that all of them face daily in our community.  I would hope that my students would see the truth in Alexie’s words and become one of the rare none drinking Indians that Arnold talks about when referring to his grandmother and why she was so special to everyone who had ever met her.

There could also be a great discussion about the simple struggles that are unique to being a teenager.  There are about another hundred reasons but this book will always be on my shelves for students to experience.

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2 thoughts on “Sherman Alexie: Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

  1. One great way to get around the required reading business is to read books aloud. We stop doing this in middle school–to the great detriment of our students’ reading lives. Or we read aloud stodgy classics that don’t actually make for good read alouds. (Or worse, we make STUDENTS read aloud popcorn style from stodgy classics!) Why not read this one aloud to your students this year? It’s time very well spent in the classroom, and if your admin complains, there is plenty of research to support it. I think that’s one way we teachers need to improve: we need to educate our administrators about best practice because often, they really don’t know.

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    • I like that idea. I don’t know if I would try it with Alexie right out of the gate though. I think I would rather my students find his humor on their own without me trying to get it across. I think it would hold more value to them and be more meaningful in general. I may try it with Ball Don’t Lie though. I just finished that book and thought it was great. Plus I can pull off the obsessive compulsive white guy. 🙂

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