Sherman Alexie has a knack of making you laugh even in times of hardships in this angst-filled book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It tells the story of a 14-year-old boy named Arnold Spirit Jr., who lives on a Spokane Indian Reservation. Arnold was born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain), gigantic feet, crazy eyes, ten more teeth than normal, a stutter, and a lisp...not a very great start in life, but he manages well.
Although he wasn't the most popular kid in school, he most certainly had a great mind. On one particular day as the teacher was handing out the geometry books, he discovered his mother's maiden name in it! He was so enraged by how old and outdated the books were that he threw the book and accidentally hit his teacher in the face. Surprisingly, the teacher didn't get upset; instead, he sat down with Arnold to encourage him to leave the reservation high school to attend a different high school, preferably one that is NOT on the reservation.
Arnold knew that the decision to leave the rez (reservation) would be a treacherous act against his family and friends, but he also knew that staying on the rez would be the death of his future. That night, he went home and boldly told his parents that he wanted to go to Reardan, a rich, white school just outside the rez. The only Indian found on that campus is the school mascot. Despite of this culture shock, Arnold figures out what he needs to do in order to have a chance in life without losing who he is.
Because Part-Time Indian received the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, it has gotten its own fair share of attention, being challenged and banned in many schools due to complaints about its "excerpts on masturbation," and "vulgarity, racism, and anti-Christian content." Others have claimed that the book is "encouraging pornography." In reality, it is a depiction of a young man's coming of age that feels true and sincere.
With a book such as Alexie's, we can enter into a world that we are not a part of and gain a better understanding of a certain culture or ethnic group. We can become more compassionate of others. Importantly, this book can teach us that no matter where you are from, you can achieve anything.
“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,' I said. 'By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian