Book cover: The Absolutely True Diaryy of a Part-Time Indianby Sherman Alexie
Little, Brown & Co, 2007.
230 pgs
Grades 8 and up

Arnold Spirit, Jr., is a 14-year-old boy living on the Spokane Indian reservation. On the reservation he is Junior, the son of alcoholics, with a range of issues related to being born with “water on the brain.”

Arnold is a bright student and has aspirations to be a cartoonist, but the schools on the reservation are filled with teachers that don’t care teaching from the same exact textbooks his parents used.

Arnold makes the life-changing decision to go to the “white” school. His decision is met with backlash from the reservation community — especially his best friend, Rowdy.

When Arnold gets to his new school, he struggles to balance the two versions of himself: Arnold the “white kid” and Junior “the Indian.”

Readers watch as Arnold enjoys successes at school, makes friends, and becomes a starter on the basketball team, while grappling with culture shock, deaths in his family, and the poverty of home.

Through his diary, humor, and illustrations, Arnold shows the struggle of juggling two identities, of trying to find success while still honoring your heritage, and ultimately of how courage can propel you through seemingly insurmountable hardships.

Alexie has created a wonderfully rich character in Arnold.

The Absolutely True Diary will help readers understand the struggles that students of color face in balancing heritage and culture with societal norms and school mores and provide compelling insights into life on a reservation.

Use this book to spark discussion about issues like stereotypes, identity, racism, cultural diversity, empathy, and using art and humor to convey important themes.