Alexie, Sherman (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Plot Description: Arnold (known as Junior), is a Spokane Indian boy who lives on the reservation with his parents, older sister and grandmother. He has health issues and is constantly picked on by the other Indians. His only friend is Rowdy, a tough kid. After an incident at school, Arnold is persuaded by his teacher that the only chance he has of really learning and making something of himself, is if he leaves the reservation. So he transfers to the closest school off the reservation (more than 20 miles away). The Indians on the reservation resent him for leaving and life becomes even more miserable when he is no longer just an outsider, but a traitor. He hopes his new school will make up for the ridicule he receives. Arnold gets to school any way he can: getting rides from his family (when they have gas money), hitchhiking and even walking. How will he be perceived by the white students and teachers? Will he be able to alter their perceptions? Is he destined to always be an outsider or will he find a way to connect with his new classmates and most importantly, his new crush Penelope?
Quantitative Reading Level : Lexile Measure: 600L, ATOS Book Level: 4 , Interest Level: Upper Grades (9-12), AR Points: 6
Qualitative Reading Analysis: The text organization adheres to conventions and its structure is clear and chronological, with some temporary shifts in time. There are illustrations which are suppose to be drawings and comics made by the narrator, which augment the story and help explain or depict events, often in a humorous way. Different fonts, text sizes and bolding also draw the readers attention to the drawings. The language is straightforward and easy to understand. The register is familiar and casual, with a small bit of academic language during one scene with a ‘genius’ student. Some experiences may be uncommon to the reader like living in a community like a reservation, but most students will relate to feelings of grief, loneliness, wanting to fit in, etc. References to texts or cultural events are explained. Theme is clear, but also contains some subtlety. First person narration provides accurate depiction of events, but only from one point of view.
Content Area: English, Literature, History
Content Area Standard: CA CCSS Writing Standards for Literacy in History, Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
Research to Build and Present Knowledge 8. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
Curriculum Suggestions: Students research the history of the Spokane Indian Tribe. Look at maps of the Tribe’s past and current boarders. Have students create a list of their tribes, like the one made by Arnold in the book. Have students create their own illustrations or comics in one of the styles Arnold uses. Students can write an essay on what Arnold learns through the course of the book. How does Arnold cope with adversity and grief? Have students write about how they would cope with the situations Arnold faces.
Supporting Digital Content:
Awards: Book Sense Book of the Year Award, Kirkus Editors Choice/Best Book, YALSA Top Ten, New York Times Best Books, BCCB Blue Ribbon Book, National Book Award, Horn Book Fanfare, Publishers Weekly Best Book, American Indian Youth Literature Award, SLJ Best Book, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award/Honors
Character names/descriptions: Arnold Spirit (Junior) a smart high school freshman who faces ridicule when he transfers from the school on the reservation where he lives in order to further his education, Arnold’s Father is an alcoholic who disappears on drinking binges, but is always there to support Arnold for his games and performances. Arnold’s Mother, Arnold’s Grandmother who loves to travel to Powwows and is very tolerant. Mary is Arthur’s older sister who hasn’t left the basement in years, Rowdy is a tough kid with an abusive father and Arnold’s best friend on the Rez, Eugene is Arnold’s Father’s best friend and an important person in Arnold’s life, Penelope the white girl Arnold loves, Roger a popular basketball player at Reardan High
Personal Thoughts: This is a coming of age story, further complicated by issues of ethnic identity. I have discussed the book with several second generation American students who easily identify with Arnold as they search for a balance between trying to belong in their family’s culture and fitting in with American culture. I think it will be a hit with students, especially at my mostly minority school.
High interest annotation: Can a nerdy, sickly Indian boy make it in the ‘white world’? Arnold plans to find out when he transfers to a school off the reservation after he figures out that he has to leave in order to follow his dreams.