The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Kirk Benshoff|
|Genre||Young adult fiction|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
|September 12, 2007|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ7.A382 Ab 2007|
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a novel by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forney. The book won several awards, and was the first young adult fiction work by Alexie, a stand-up comedian, screenwriter, film producer, and songwriter who has previously written adult novels, short stories, poems, and screenplays. Alexie stated, "I [wrote the book] because so many librarians, teachers, and teenagers kept asking me to write one." 
Despite the novel's high acclaim and several achievements, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has also received a lot of objections and has consistently appeared on the annual list of frequently challenged books since 2008. The controversy stems from the novel’s discussion of alcohol, poverty, bullying, violence, sexuality, profanity and slurs related to homosexuality and mental disability. As a result, some schools have banned the book from school libraries or inclusion in curricula.
The Absolutely True Diary is a first-person narrative from the perspective of Native American teenager Arnold Spirit Jr., also known as "Junior", a 14-year-old budding cartoonist. The book is a coming of age story, detailing Junior's life on the Spokane Indian Reservation, and his decision to go to an all-white public high school off the reservation. The graphic novel includes 65 comic illustrations that help further the plot.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Background
- 3 Characters
- 4 Themes and Symbolism
- 5 Reception
- 6 Controversy
- 6.1 Censorship
- 6.1.1 Antioch Township, Illinois (2009)
- 6.1.2 Crook County, Oregon (2009)
- 6.1.3 Stockton, Missouri (2010)
- 6.1.4 Newcastle, Wyoming (2010)
- 6.1.5 Helena, Montana (2011)
- 6.1.6 Richland, Washington (2011)
- 6.1.7 Dade County, Georgia (2012)
- 6.1.8 Mattapoisett, Massachusetts (2012)
- 6.1.9 Union County, New Jersey (2012)
- 6.1.10 Yakima, Washington (2013)
- 6.1.11 Queens, New York (2014)
- 6.1.12 Billings, Montana (2014)
- 6.1.13 Jefferson County, West Virginia (2014)
- 6.1.14 Sweet Home, Oregon (2014)
- 6.1.15 Meridian, Idaho (2014)
- 6.1.16 Brunswick, North Carolina (2014)
- 6.1.17 Highland Park, Texas (2015)
- 6.2 Defense of the Novel
- 6.1 Censorship
- 7 Historical Trauma of the Spokane Indians
- 8 Multicultural literature
- 9 Media
- 10 References
The book follows Junior, a fourteen-year-old boy living with his family on the Spokane Indian Reservation near Wellpinit, Washington for a school year. It is told in episodic diary style, moving from the start of the school year to the beginning of summer. It includes both Junior's written record of his life and his cartoon drawings, some of them comically commenting on his situations, and others more seriously depicting important people in his life.
The Absolutely True Diary begins by introducing Junior's birth defects, including the fact that he was born with hydrocephalus and therefore is small for his age and suffers from seizures, poor eyesight, stuttering, and a lisp. As a result, Junior has always been picked on by other people on the reservation. Junior’s family is extremely poor and have limited access to opportunities. When Junior's dog Oscar gets heat stroke, his father must put him down because they cannot afford to take him to a veterinarian. Junior's only child friend is Rowdy, a classmate who is abused at home and is known as a bully on the reservation. Despite his intimidating role, Rowdy often stands up for Junior and they bond by enjoying kids' comics.
Junior's first day of high school is pivotal to the plot of the novel. When Mr. P, his geometry teacher, passes him his textbook, he sees his mother’s name in it, realizing that the book must be at least 30 years old. Angered and saddened by the fact that the reservation is so poor that it cannot afford new textbooks, Junior violently throws the book, which hits Mr. P's face, breaking his nose. When he visits Junior at home, Mr. P convinces Junior to transfer to Reardan High School, sensing a degree of precociousness in the young teenager. The town of Reardan is far wealthier than Wellpinit—Junior is the only Indian at Reardan besides the team mascot. Although Junior's family is poor, and although the school is 22 miles away and transportation is unreliable, they support him and do what they can to make it possible for him to stay in the new school. Rowdy, however, is upset by Junior's decision to transfer, and the once-best friends have very little contact during the year.
Junior develops a crush on the school's most popular white girl, Penelope, and becomes study friends with an intelligent student named Gordy. His interactions with the white students give him a better perspective both on white culture and his own. He realizes how much stronger his family ties are than those of his white classmates, noticing that many of the white fathers never come to their children's school events. Junior also realizes that the white students have different rules than those he grew up with, which is evident when he reacts to an insult from the school's star athlete, Roger, by punching him in the face. Junior hit him, as he would have been expected to do on the reservation, and he expects Roger to get revenge. But Roger never does; in fact, Roger and his friends show Junior more respect. Junior also gets closer to Penelope, which makes him more popular with the other girls at the school.
Roger suggests that Junior try out for the basketball team, and to Junior's surprise, he makes the varsity team, which pits him against his former school, Wellpinit, and specifically Rowdy, who is Wellpinit's star freshman. Their first match demonstrates to Junior just how angry the reservation people are at him for transferring: when he enters the court, they boo and insult him. During the game, Rowdy elbows Junior in the head and knocks him unconscious. While suffering some injuries from the game, Junior and his coach become closer as Coach tells him that he admires Junior's commitment to the team. Later on, his grandmother, who Junior looks up to the most on the reservation, is hit and killed by a drunk driver. After his grandmother's funeral, a family friend, Eugene, is shot in the face by his friend Bobby after fighting over alcohol. After grieving and reflecting on his loved ones' deaths, Junior plays in his basketball team's second match against Wellpinit. Reardan wins and Junior gets to block Rowdy. Junior feels triumphant until he sees the Wellpinit players' faces after their defeat and remembers the difficulties they face at home and their lack of hope for a future; ashamed, he runs to the locker room, where he vomits and then breaks down in tears. Later, Junior receives news of the death of his sister and her husband who were killed in a fire at their trailer.
In the course of the year, Junior and his family suffered many tragedies, many related to alcohol abuse. These events test Junior's sense of hope for a better future and make him wonder about the darker aspects of reservation culture. Furthermore, the protagonist is torn between the need to fit in his new, all-white school and holding on to his Indian heritage, leading him to face criticism from his own community. Despite these challenges, they also help him see how much his family and his new friends love him, and he learns to see himself as both Indian and American. Meanwhile, Rowdy realizes that Junior is the only nomad on the reservation, which makes him more of a "traditional" Indian than everyone else in town. In the end, Junior and Rowdy reconcile while playing basketball and resolve to correspond no matter where the future takes them.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is semi-autobiographical. The novel started as a section of Sherman Alexie's family memoir, but after the persistence of a young adult editor, he decided to use it as a basis for his first young adult novel. Sherman Alexie commented, "If I were to guess at the percentage, it would be about seventy-eight percent true."  Like Arnold, Sherman Alexie grew up on the Spokane Reservation in Wellpinit with an alcoholic father. He was also born with hydrocephalus, but Alexie did not have any speech impediments. Alexie was also teased for his government-issued, horn-rimmed glasses and nicknamed "The Globe" by fellow students because of his giant head. Another similarity between Alexie and his character Arnold is that Alexie also left the reservation to attend high school at Reardan High, but Alexie chose to go to Reardan to achieve the required credits he needed to go to college. Alexie became the star player of Reardan's basketball team, and was the only Indian on the team besides the school's team mascot. The scene where Arnold finds that he is using the same textbook his mother did thirty years before him is drawn from Alexie's own experiences. The only difference from Alexie's life and the novel is that Alexie threw the book against the wall out of anger, and did not hit anyone like Junior did.
In his own writing, Alexie unapologetically describes himself as "kind of mixed up, kind of odd, not traditional. I'm a rez kid who's gone urban, and that's what I write about. I have never pretended to be otherwise." "A smart Indian is a dangerous person," Alexie states in a personal essay, "[a smart Indian is] widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike."  Junior encapsulates this type of experience when he receives strong censure both from his tribal community and from his peers and teachers at his new school, Reardan. In the personal story, Alexie's continued explanation of his own experience is reflected in Junior's. Alexie recalls, "I fought with my classmates on a daily basis. They wanted me to stay quiet when the non-Indian teacher asked for answers….[W]e were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. …[W]e were expected to fail in the non-Indian world."  Through Junior's success at Reardan and his realizations about life on the reservation, Alexie represents a possibility for the success of Native American children—by defeating the expectation that he is doomed to fail, Junior crosses social boundaries and defeats unfavorable odds. Alexie's reflections again demonstrate that Junior's experiences are semi-autobiographical.
- Arnold Spirit Jr.
- Nicknamed Junior, Arnold is a fourteen-year-old boy who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He enjoys playing basketball and drawing cartoons in his free time. Junior and his family, along with the others on the reservation, feel the daily effects of poverty and financial shortcomings—there is often not enough food to eat in their home or enough money to fill the gas tank in the car, forcing him to hitchhike to school or not go at all. He is incredibly smart; he transfers from the school on the reservation to Reardan, where almost all the students are white.
- Agnes Adams (Junior's Mom)
- A Spokane Indian, Agnes has lived on the reservation her entire life. She is a bad liar, likes to read books, and is considered to be very smart by her children. She is an ex-alcoholic and is seen as eccentric by Junior: "She's a human tape recorder," Junior explains, "Really, my mom can read the newspaper in fifteen minutes and tell me baseball scores, the location of every war, the latest guy to win the lottery, and the high temperature in Des Moines, Iowa."[a]
- Arnold Spirit Sr. (Junior's Dad)
- An alcoholic, but very supportive. Even though he sometimes disappears, he tries to take care of his family and he often drives Junior to Reardan. He plays the piano, the guitar and the saxophone. He could have been a jazz musician, if he had had more time and money.[a]
- Mr. P
- Junior's white geometry teacher at Wellpinit High School. He mentored Mary, Junior's older sister, and wants to help Junior leave the reservation. Mr. P regrets the way he treated his students when he was younger. He had been taught to beat the Indian out of the children. He is short and bald. Incredibly absent minded, he often forgets to come to school, but "he doesn't expect much of [his students]."[b] A major turning point in Diary's plot occurs when Junior throws his math book at Mr. P after a realization about the reservation's poverty.
- Rowdy is Junior's best friend. He is "long and lean & strong like a snake."[c] Throughout the novel, Rowdy's father abuses him, which leads to his bully-like behavior. He likes reading comics, such as Archie. The comics help him escape the troubles of the real world. Junior and Rowdy have been the best of friends since they were little, and Rowdy has often taken on the role of Junior's protector. However, as Junior leaves the reservation school, Rowdy feels betrayed by his best friend and turns into Junior's "arch nemesis" during the novel. Even though Rowdy develops a passionate hatred for Junior through the betrayal he felt, they are able to eventually overcome their situation and become friends again by the end of the novel.
- Junior's sister. Mary has long hair and is nicknamed "Mary Runs Away". She likes to write romance stories and is considered by Junior to be "beautiful and strong and funny". She was smart, but did not have the skills to get a job.[d] After high school, she did not go to college or get a job; instead, she moved to Montana with her new husband she met at the reservation casino. Mary and her new husband die of a fire in their trailer-home after a partygoer forgot about a boiling pot of soup. A curtain drifted onto the hot plate and the trailer was quickly engulfed. Junior was told that Mary never woke up because she was too drunk.
- Roger is a jock at Reardan High School. Upon meeting Junior, Roger uses racial slurs to demean him, and Junior then punches him in the face. Contrary to Junior's expectations, Roger then begins to respect Junior, and the two gradually become friends. Furthermore, Roger obtains a role as a kind of advisor and protector of Junior, occasionally helping him monetarily and other times with advice.
- Gordy is a student who attends Reardan, wears glasses, and does everything in the name of science. Gordy always speaks in a sophisticated and proper manner throughout the novel. He is one of the smartest students at the school and he eventually becomes Junior's first real friend at Reardan. Gordy also helps Junior with schoolwork and encourages his enjoyment of reading books.
- Junior's crush and good friend from Reardan High. She has blonde hair and Junior thinks that she is very attractive. She enjoys helping others, is bulimic, and has a racist father named Earl. She is popular and plays on the Reardan volleyball team. She is obsessed with leaving the small town behind and traveling the world.
- The best friend of Junior's father. "Eugene was a nice guy, and like an uncle to me, but he was drunk all the time,"[e] Junior reveals. He becomes an Emergency Medical Technician(EMT) for the tribal ambulance service, and, for a brief time, drives a 1946 Indian Chief Roadmaster. Eugene dies after his close friend Bobby shoots him in the face during a dispute over alcohol. Bobby hangs himself in jail.
- Grandmother Spirit
- Junior's Grandma. She is Junior's source of advice and support, until she dies after being hit by a drunk driver while walking on the side of the road on her way home after a powwow. Her dying words were "Forgive him," which meant that she wanted her family to forgive the drunk driver, Gerald, for hitting and killing her. Ironically, she never had a drink in her life. She was also extremely tolerant and loving of all people. Junior's grandma is his favorite person in the world. "My grandmother's last act on earth was a call for forgiveness, love, and tolerance," Junior recalls on page 157.[f]
- The coach of the basketball team at Reardan High School. Unlike the teachers who are apprehensive of Junior's attendance at Reardan, the coach pays no attention to Junior's race. He is supportive of Junior both on and off the court.[g] The coach becomes a father figure for Junior in many ways, but also becomes an exemplary friend, helping Junior through difficult times dealing with playing against his home reservation.
Themes and Symbolism
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Hope and dreams
Throughout the novel, Junior shares his dreams with the readers. In the first chapter, he dreams of becoming a cartoon artist in order to get rich and escape the cycles of poverty and abuse on the reservation. The idea that hope exists off the rez is echoed in later chapters, where Junior finds himself caught between home on the reservation and pursuing his dreams in the outside world. Junior asks his parents, "Who has the most hope?" to which they answer "White people".[h] The rez is characterized by lack of opportunity and poor education, the solution to which appears to lie in the Western world. Hence, the novel explores the theme of hope and dreams through Junior's struggles to find a path to break free of his seemingly doomed fate on the reservation.
Junior admits to being a target of bullying due to his appearance and medical history (lisp, seizures, hydrocephalus). He reveals this information in a way that is both comical and sympathetic; he invites readers to share and relate to his experience being bullied. After transferring to Reardan High School, Junior must also deal with being the only poor Native American student in a school full of rich white people, and he must deal with the pressures of keeping up appearances for fear of losing his peers’ social acceptance.
Junior lives under the constant threat of physical violence. Although he attempts to assuage the threat through his drawings and light-hearted approach to the problem, he is nevertheless subjected to regular beatings by members of the reservation, including the adults. Violence serves as a form of communication in the reservation; Junior believes it is the Native Americans' acknowledgement that they are going nowhere that fuels their violence. Thus, as is true with Rowdy, physical violence is also communicative.
Poverty is a theme that is introduced by the main character at the very beginning on the book. Junior knows that his family is poor, just as every other family who lives on the reservation. Junior and his family often go without meals for extended periods of time, and therefore savor the meals that they do get. The death of Oscar, the canine best friend of Junior, is shot by his father because their family can't afford to pay the veterinarian bills. The poverty disparity is also evident when Junior transfers schools to Reardan and notices the difference in quality of clothing between him and his rich, white peers. He even, on occasion, walks to and from school because his family doesn't have the gas or transportation to get him there and home. Ashamed of economic status, Junior does everything in his power to ensure that none of his peers find out that his family is poor, such as making excuses, lying, and borrowing money.
The novel uses humorous narratives and comics to convey the theme of race. It explores racial issues such as stereotyping of Native and White people, the use of indigenous culture as sports mascots, interracial friendships, and cultural tokenization. For example, Junior notes that the only other "Indian" at Reardan was its school mascot, calling attention to the ubiquitous use of indigenous symbols in sports (see "List of sports team names and mascots derived from indigenous peoples"). Although Junior often dichotomizes Whites and Indians, Alexie reveals the stereotyping that occurs while still blurring the lines between races. Junior eventually establishes friendship with many of the White Reardan students, who see past race and accept him for his caring nature, his intelligence, and his basketball talents.
Alcohol abuse is an issue salient to the Spokane reservation. It is directly responsible for the character deaths in the novel and the deaths of most of the Indians on the reservation.[i] The novel highlights the destructive nature of alcohol abuse and its major contribution to the stagnation of progression at the reservation and dysfunction of the family. Junior voices his disapproval for its widespread use and considers it to be directly responsible for much of the disarray in his own family.
The portrayal of alcoholism in the novel is representative of the problem Native Americans have with the use of alcohol. Much of Alexie's desire to explore and address the issue of alcoholism derives from his own experiences with alcohol on the reservation. When asked if he feels the need to address alcoholism as a Native American, he replied "the whole race is filled with alcoholics. For those Indians who try to pretend it's a stereotype, they're in deep, deep denial," and by addressing it that "with the social hope that by writing about it, maybe it'll help people get sober, and it has." 
The centerpiece of the novel is the friendship between Junior and Rowdy, which frames the novel. In the first chapter, Junior says, "Rowdy might be the most important person in my life. Maybe more important than my family."[j] In the absence of his drunk, emotionally-distant father and eccentric mother, Junior finds romance in Rowdy. But as the novel progresses, Junior begins to make friends at Reardan High and learns just how crucial it is to build new relationships with different people, as they each serve an important role or function in his life.[k]
Writing and literature
Writing and literature play important roles in the lives of Junior, Rowdy, and Mary. Rowdy reads comics as a way to escape from his abusive, dysfunctional home: "He likes to pretend he lives in comic books," Alexie reveals.[l] Similarly, Mary reads and writes romance novels in order to escape (and run away) from her equally harsh reality. In contrast, Junior draws cartoons and writes because it makes him feel important and is his way of communicating with the world. Alexie furthers the distinction between Junior on Mary on page 46—he writes, "My sister is running away to get lost, but I am running away because I want to find something." Alexie's commentary on Junior's perspective (through drawings, dialogue, and Junior's own views on literature) highlights Junior's ambitiousness, curiosity, and drive. In essence, writing, drawing, and reading are activities that are cathartic to Rowdy, Mary, and Junior. These outlets function as coping mechanisms to make the dysfunction, violence, and abuse in the characters' lives more bearable.
Oscar is Junior's stray mutt, best friend, and "the only living thing he can depend on."[m] He is euthanized by Junior's father at the beginning of the novel because they are unable to afford to take him to a vet. Oscar is a symbol of the struggles and consequences of being poor. Junior's inability to aid his friend reminds him of the poverty he believes he is destined to inherit.[n] However, Oscar's death is also a turning point for Junior, as it acts as a catalyst for his realization and change.
In the novel, basketball is a symbol of improvement. Before his arrival to Reardan, Junior was, by his own words, "a decent player."[o] While at Reardan, Junior improves because of the expectations set by his coach and teammates, and becomes a valuable asset to the team. By the end of the novel, Junior believes he will be able to beat Rowdy someday. The transformation Junior undergoes through the sport is a testament of his will-power and dedication to better himself.
Family takes significance part in this book. Even Junior's family are poor, they always supported him and he mentioned that they are the only people who listen to him. His sister sends letters and gives him hope. His dad, who is alcoholic, saved five dollars for him. Junior knows that it is easy for his father to spend that five dollars on alcohol but the fact that he saved it for him made him feel special. This shows that money is not everything to become happy.
Bruce Barcott of The New York Times said in a 2007 review, "For 15 years now, Sherman Alexie has explored the struggle to survive between the grinding plates of the Indian and white worlds. He's done it through various characters and genres, but The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian may be his best work yet. Working in the voice of a 14-year-old forces Alexie to strip everything down to action and emotion, so that reading becomes more like listening to your smart, funny best friend recount his day while waiting after school for a ride home."
The New York Times opined that this was Alexie's "first foray into the young adult genre, and it took him only one book to master it." The San Francisco Chronicle praised it as "[a] great book full of pain, but luckily, the pain is spiked with joy and humor."
Reviewers also commented on Alexie's treatment of difficult issues. Delia Santos, a publisher for the civilrights.org page, noted, "Alexie fuses words and images to depict the difficult journey many Native Americans face. … Although Junior is a young adult, he must face the reality of living in utter poverty, contend with the discrimination of those outside of the reservation, cope with a community and a family ravaged and often killed by alcoholism, break cultural barriers at an all-White high school, and maintain the perseverance needed to hope and work for a better future." Andrew Fersch, a publisher for Vail Daily, commented, "most folks block out most of their teenage memory, [while] Alexie embraced it with humor."
In another review published in November 2016 by Dakota Student website, author Breanna Roen says that she has never seen the way that this book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, conveys so much happiness, love, and grief. Alexie's work in this novel can’t be compared to other Native American books; it is "a whole different ball game," Roen asserts. The review continues to state that the theme regarding identity, home, race, poverty, tradition, friendship, hope and success is seen throughout the entire book, leaving the readers on the edge of their seats and wanting more. Roen says that she could hardly put the book down and is avidly looking for something similar.
In the review, "A Brave Life: The Real Struggles of a Native American Boy make an Uplifting Story" published in The Guardian, author Diane Samuels says that Alexie's book has a "combination of drawings, pithy turns of phrase, candor, tragedy, despair and hope … [that] makes this more than an entertaining read, more than an engaging story about a North American Indian kid who makes it out of a poor, dead-end background without losing his connection with who he is and where he's from." In some areas, Samuels criticizes Alexie's stylistic reliance on the cartoons. However, she continues to say that for the most part, Sherman Alexie has a talent for capturing the details and overview in a well-developed and snappy way. Samuels finishes her review by stating that: "Opening this book is like meeting a friend you'd never make in your actual life and being given a piece of his world, inner and outer. It's humane, authentic and, most of all, it speaks."
In the review "Using The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to Teach About Racial Formation", Miami University professor Kevin Talbert says that Alexie chose to narrate the story through the eyes of fourteen-year-old Junior to transport his readers into "uncomfortable or incongruent spaces." He continues to say that the novel's writing allows for topics about class and racial struggles to be intertwined with more common adolescent struggles like sexual desires, controlling hormones, and managing relationships with friends and family. Furthermore, Talbert believes that, unlike other Young Adult novels, this book captures issues of race and class in a way that reaches a wider audience. The article also states that Junior's narration in the novel sends a message to society, "that adolescents have important things to say, that being fourteen years old matters."
Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall, director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University, posits in his critical essay "Adding a Disability Perspective When Reading Adolescent Literature: Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" that the book presents a progressive view of disability. Arnold has what he calls "water on the brain", which would correctly be referred to as hydrocephalus. Crandall points out that Arnold is never held back by his disability, but in fact laughs at himself: "With my big feet and pencil body, I looked like a capital L walking down the road." According to Crandall, the illustrations by Ellen Forney, which are meant to be the cartoons that Arnold draws, represent a new way for the disabled narrator to communicate with the readers: they "initiate further interpretations and conversations about how students perceive others who are not like them, especially individuals with disabilities." Arnold's hydrocephaly doesn't prevent him from becoming a basketball star at his new school. His disability fades as a plot device as the book progresses.
David Goldstein, in his paper "Sacred Hoop Dreams: Basketball in the Work of Sherman Alexie", analyses the importance of basketball in the novel. He suggests that it represents "the tensions between traditional lifeways and contemporary social realities." According to Goldstein, Junior/Arnold sees losing at basketball as "losing at life." The Reardan kids are eternal winners because of their victories on the court: "Those kids were magnificent." Goldstein notes how basketball is also a sport of poverty in America — "it costs virtually nothing to play, and so is appropriate for the reservation."
Nerida Weyland's article, "Representations of Happiness in Comedic Young Adult Fiction: Happy Are the Wretched" describes how Junior/Arnold is an example of the complex, not-innocent child often presented in modern young adult literature. As detailed in Alyson Miller's "Unsuited to Age Group: The Scandals of Children's Literature," society has created an "innocence of the idealized child"; Alexie's protagonist is the opposite of this figure.
According to Weyland, Alexie doesn’t play by the rules – the use of humor in the book is directed at established "power hierarchies, dominant social ideologies or topics deemed taboo". Weyland suggests that the outsized effect of this feature of the book is revealed in the controversy its publication caused, as it was banned and challenged in schools all over the country. Weyland states that Alexie's book with Forney's black-comedy illustrations explore themes of "racial tension, domestic violence, and social injustice" in a never-before-done way. As an example, Alexie uses the anecdote of the killing of Junior's dog, Oscar, to expand on the idea of social mobility, or lack thereof – Junior states that he understood why the dog had to be killed rather than taken to the vet, because his parents were poor and they "came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people." Weyland notes how readers are likely to be uncomfortable with Junior/Arnold/Alexie making light of topics of such importance (racism, poverty, alcoholism) through the use of dark comedy.
Alexie won three major "year's best" awards for Diary, a biannual award for books by and about Native Americans, and a California award that annually covers the last four years. The awards are listed below:
- 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.
- 2008 American Indian Youth Literature Awards. American Indian Library Association Best Young Adult Book. In 2018 AILA rescinded this award.
- 2008 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Fiction and Poetry.
- 2009 Odyssey Award as the year's "best audiobook for children or young adults", read by Alexie (Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC, 2008, ISBN 1-4361-2490-5).
- 2010 California Young Reader Medal, Young Adult Book (eligible to win once during its first four years).
Diary was also named to several annual lists including three by the United States' library industry (not including being banned).
- "Best Books of 2007", School Library Journal.
- 2008 "Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults", Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).
- 2009 "Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults", YALSA.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been at the center of many controversies due to the book's themes and content and its target audience of young adults. The book has both fervent supporters and concerned protesters: "some people thought it was the greatest book ever, and some people thought it was the most perverted book ever," said Shawn Tobin, a superintendent of a Georgia school district.
The topics addressed in the book that have been controversial include cultural insensitivity, provocative and explicit language, scenes that are sexually explicit or anti-family, anti-Christian content, alcoholism and depictions of bullying and violence, among others.
Antioch Township, Illinois (2009)
Local parents caught wind of the book's references to alcoholism, sensitive cultural topics, and sexual innuendos: at the beginning of June, seven Antioch parents attended a 117th District School Board meeting to request that the book be removed from the curriculum. However, the novel was not banned from Antioch High School's curriculum following the controversy. Instead, the English Department introduced an alternative option for summer reading—students who preferred to read John Hart's Down River were permitted to do so.
Crook County, Oregon (2009)
In Prineville, Oregon one parent raised objections to the school board about how the book contains references to masturbation and is generally inappropriate. In response, the Crook County School District temporarily removed the book from classrooms. The removal was upheld, but the book remained available to students in school libraries.
Stockton, Missouri (2010)
A parent complained about the violence, language, and sexual content in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and the Stockton School District Board voted to ban the book from school libraries. The decision was voted upon multiple times, but ultimately the ban was upheld.
Newcastle, Wyoming (2010)
In 2010, Wyoming's Newcastle Middle School attempted to include Diary in its 8th grade English curriculum. At first, the district allowed it under the premise that children who were not allowed to read it would bring a signed paper allowing them to read the alternate book Tangerine. About two weeks after the announcement was made to the 8th graders, the school board banned teaching it in a curriculum, but still allowed it in the library for those who wished to read it.
Helena, Montana (2011)
In 2011, one parent in the Helena School District objected to the book's "obscene, vulgar, and pornographic language." However, the school district voted to retain the book in schools.
Richland, Washington (2011)
In 2011, a 9th grade Language Arts teacher at the Richland Public High School piloted Diary in his curriculum, and with the help of his students, reported to the school's board on the inclusion of the book in a high school curriculum. Parents of students in the class were notified ahead of time that the teacher was interested in the book, as a result, parents were able to opt their student out of reading the novel if they so chose.
In June 2011, the school board voted 3-2 to remove the book from the school entirely. Board members had not read the book but cited the split Instructional Materials Committee vote as the reason to ban the novel.
The board members later learned that some members of the Instructional Materials Committee had not read the book, and so the board members agreed to vote again, but read it for themselves before the vote. On July 11, 2011, the school board voted 4-1 to reverse its earlier decision.
Dade County, Georgia (2012)
In 2012, the book was removed from the Dade County school libraries and required high school reading lists due to complaints about "vulgarity, racism, and anti-Christian content".
Mattapoisett, Massachusetts (2012)
In 2012 in the Old Rochester Regional Junior High School, the book was challenged as an 8th grade English assignment, but ultimately retained by the school.
Union County, New Jersey (2012)
In 2012, the book was challenged in 9th grade English classes in Westfield High School for "very sensitive material in the book including excerpts on masturbation amongst other explicit sexual references, encouraging pornography, racism, religious irreverence, and strong language." However, the school board decided to retain the book as part of the curriculum.
Yakima, Washington (2013)
Sherman Alexie's Diary was challenged in his home state of Washington, only a few hours drive away from where the semi-autobiographical work is set. This means that various people have objected to certain content, theme, or language in this book. The dispute over the book's appropriateness for high school students took place in the West Valley School District in 2013. Specifically, many parents claimed that the book contains inappropriate and sexual content and language that are unsuitable for high school students.
As of now, there have been four official complaints about the book that have been recorded. Resultantly, Alexie's book was removed from 10th-grade classes and made supplemental literature for 11th and 12th grades, instead of required reading.
Queens, New York (2014)
A middle school in Queens removed Diary from required reading due to the references to masturbation, which the school considered inappropriate for middle schoolers.
Billings, Montana (2014)
The book was challenged on the 10th grade reading list at Skyview High School, where a parent complained "[t]his book is, shockingly, written by a Native American who reinforces all the negative stereotypes of his people and does it from the crude, obscene, and unfiltered viewpoint of a 9th-grader growing up on the reservation." The book was not removed from the school list.
Jefferson County, West Virginia (2014)
A Jefferson County parent complained about the novel's graphic nature, resulting in the book being pulled from all county schools.
Sweet Home, Oregon (2014)
Some parents of students of a Sweet Home Junior High English class voiced concerns about the book's content, specifically the objectification of women and young girls. The concerns resulted in the book being officially challenged.
Meridian, Idaho (2014)
In April 2014, Diary was pulled from the Meridian district's supplemental reading list after significant parental disapproval of the novel's subject matter. The book had been a part of its curriculum since 2010. Students protested to remove the ban but were unsuccessful.
According to Marshall University Libraries, in 2015 the text was banned from the Meridian (ID) school districts' required texts due to parents complaining that it "discusses masturbation, contains profanity, and has been viewed as anti-Christian."
Brunswick, North Carolina (2014)
On July 1, 2014, a grandmother in Brunswick, North Carolina, filed a complaint against Diary at Cedar Grove Middle School. Two weeks later, the school's Media Advisory Committee met and unanimously agreed to keep the book in its curriculum because the committee saw the value in "the realistic depiction of bullying and racism, as well as a need for tolerance and awareness of cultural differences." The grandmother, Frances Wood, appealed the decision, remaining adamant that "[t]his book is not morally acceptable… Everything in it is degrading. There's nothing uplifting in it."
One year later, Wood challenged the book yet again, this time at West Brunswick High School. Wood lost this protest against the book when the principal of West Brunswick High School responded a few days later that the county school board's policy was that their decision on a book held for all schools in the county, and that those decisions could not be revisited for two years.
Highland Park, Texas (2015)
In 2015, the superintendent of the Highland Park Independent School District suspended Diary from the school approved book list. The suspension was very brief, and the superintendent reinstated the book soon after.
Defense of the Novel
Though The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, has been met with criticism, it has also been wildly praised by teachers, students, and Alexie himself.
Alexie refutes these arguments by emphasizing the positive learning opportunities readers gain from exposure to these harsh aspects of contemporary life. He describes his own experience of adults trying to hide and protect him from suffering:
"all during my childhood, would-be saviors tried to rescue my fellow tribal members. They wanted to rescue me. But, even then, I could only laugh at their platitudes. In those days, the cultural conservatives thought that KISS and Black Sabbath were going to impede my moral development. They wanted to protect me from sex when I had already been raped. They wanted to protect me from evil though a future serial killer had already abused me. They wanted me to profess my love for God without considering that I was the child and grandchild of men and women who’d been sexually and physically abused by generations of clergy."
Alexie explains not only did students love the book, but they were also able to connect his story to their own difficult experiences "depression, attempted suicide, gang warfare, sexual and physical abuse, absentee parents, poverty, racism, and learning disabilities"—and he notes:
"I have yet to receive a letter from a child somehow debilitated by the domestic violence, drug abuse, racism, poverty, sexuality, and murder contained in my book. To the contrary, kids as young as ten have sent me autobiographical letters written in crayon, complete with drawings inspired by my book, that are just as dark, terrifying, and redemptive as anything I’ve ever read."
By shielding inappropriate topics and hardships, many children who suffer with these issues feel even more marginalized and isolated. The book has been credited as being a book that discusses the experiences and issues faced by Native American students in the public school system.
Other defenders of the novel discuss the benefits of showing the consequences of consuming alcohol, which overall gives an anti-alcohol message.
Some have even discussed the merits of the book while also mentioning the risks of exposing children to the harsher scenes. Young Adult Fiction author Raquel Rivera wrote in an essay on censorship:
"It is an excellent book and happens to have much useful material for a boy entering his teens... But there is a scene in Part-Time Indian in which a racist joke is told, and the protagonist is compelled to fight. For me, the joke was nothing more than a tool to propel the plot. In the story it is duly vanquished and forgotten. But the joke stayed with my son, and he continued to be bothered by it."
Historical Trauma of the Spokane Indians
The autobiographical nature of the novel reflects the internal struggle for identity that Alexie dealt with as a child. His personal experiences then tie into the idea of the trauma that Native American tribes live with as they still struggle to balance assimilation with identity. This phenomenon has been explored and analyzed since the publication of the novel.
Jan Johnson, clinical assistant professor of American Indian and African American Literatures at the University of Idaho, utilizes Alexie's novel to explore the idea of marginalization and oppression in Native American communities in her article, "Healing The Soul Wound,". Johnson identifies the "soul wound," the deep-seated trauma Native Americans have endured since colonization and continue to struggle with. This term explains how the consistent depiction of Native American people as suffering and helpless has become ingrained into their identity. Johnson writes, "Alexie feels that—as a result of this grim history—suffering and trauma are fundamental to the experience of being Native American. Ceaseless suffering attains an epistemological status."  Johnson uses the novel to illustrate her thoughts about the future of the Native American culture. The Spokane Indians, and tribes like them, face the trauma of searching for an identity in a world that attempts to envelop one's culture. Johnson, argues that Alexie uses Diary to represent the potential for healing the traumas that Native American tribes have faced throughout history.
In Sherman Alexie, A Collection of Critical Essays, critics Jeff Burglund and Jan Roush interpret Jan Johnson's definition of the soul wound as "intergenerational suffering."  On pages 10 and 11 of Diary, Alexie elaborates on the concept of generational poverty when he reveals that Junior's family is too poor to care for the family's sick dog: "My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people," he writes. Junior is "wounded," which Alexie shows through Junior's alcoholic father, his misguided sister, and his defeating social life. Through Diary, Alexie aims to make a larger statement about the need for change in both the internal structure and the external perception of Native American communities in the United States. Columbus and his men colonized the new land they encountered in horrid ways that diminished Native people of anything they had. Violent invasions by Columbus and his crew left the Indians with nothing to call their own. Sacred land, animals, plants, and relatives were all lost during the time of what Maria Yellow Brave Heart and Lemyra DeBruyn called the "American Indian Holocaust."  The ones that were somewhat fortunate enough to stay alive were brainwashed of everything they knew, and were forced to believe and follow the religious practices of the Christian faith despite the fact it was not what they believed in. The Indians were also forced to relocate and leave everything, which led to many of them dying due to illness or unbearable conditions they had to walk in. Some Native peoples are still affected by this trauma. Many argue that "historical unresolved grief" is the cause of high crime rates and mental health issues among Native American people today. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart and Lemyra DeBruyn explain the meaning behind "historical disenfranchised grief" and how it is overlooked by Americans. American Indians are experiencing disenfranchised grief because of how this group of people was and still is seen as savage, emotionless, and lacking of right or reason to mourn and grieve.
There are many arguments for why Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is an example of multicultural literature. A textbook called Sherman Alexie in the Classroom was recently published in order to help teachers and educators explore how multicultural texts can impact the learning outcome of students––especially for Native Americans in the modern times. This text explores the significance and the message behind the works of Sherman Alexie, including poetry, novels, films strips, and much more.
Sherman Alexie's novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, is a multicultural text that many English teachers use in order to educate their students about the Native American heritage. The author, Alexie, himself is of the Spokane heritage, and as a result, he uses his own background and personal experiences to write this specific novel in a semi-autobiographical format. Teachers refer to the textbook, Sherman Alexie in the Classroom, to claim that the book provides an opportunity to educate non-Native American students to "work through their white guilt and develop anti-racist perspectives." 
In an interview, Alexie stated that, "The primary audience is college-educated white women, so that's who reads everything. If you want to talk about an indication of that--certainly this book is geared towards young adults, but I was at the American Library Association convention in DC a couple of weeks ago, and there were something like 15,000 librarians there and 99 percent of them were white women so ... Thank God ... they seem to be the people most willing to ignore barriers and boundaries and to reach across, so that's who my audience is in reality. In this book, specifically, I'm really hoping it reaches a lot of native kids certainly, but also poor kids of any variety who feel trapped by circumstance, by culture, by low expectations, I'm hoping it helps them get out."
Alexie also wants his "literature to concern the daily lives of Indians. [He] think[s] most Native American literature is so obsessed with nature that [he doesn't] think it has any useful purpose". Alexis was quoted saying, "There's a kid out there, some boy or girl who will be that great writer, and hopefully they'll see what I do and get inspired by that".
Furthermore, Alexie's texts encourage educators to initiate discussions in their classrooms about the Native American culture as a whole. Many stereotypes of Native Americans exist in the United States; therefore, many people have erroneous views of what modern Native Americans' lives are like. 11th and 12th grade English teacher, Bryan Ripley Crandall, believes that learning about different cultural backgrounds creates a diverse learning environment. Crandall also states that the Native American narrative of Alexie's book is a way of giving minority students an access to their own background and heritage within an American education. Therefore, Alexie's multicultural literature of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian provides an expanded perspective of the daily lives of Native Americans living on the reservation in today's world.
The author Sherman Alexie himself narrates the audiobook of The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian, which has won many awards for its creation of an idiosyncratic, first-person voice. "Alexie is the perfect choice to read his own story," notes critic Kristi Jemtegaard. Alexie is able to convey the messages that the missing cartoons, caricatures, and sketches reveal in the printed text. Alexie, who has experience as an orator, won the Taos Poetry Circus World Heavyweight Championship award three years in a row for his oratorical virtuosity.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, in December 2016, Fox 2000 studios acquired the rights to produce The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The producing team consists of Hugh Jackman, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, and Lauren Shuler Donner. The film is currently under development, and a set release date has not been announced as of yet.
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The Absolutely True Diary
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(With acceptance speech by Alexie, interview with Alexie, and other material, partly replicated for all five Young People's Literature authors and books.)
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