The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Teen Book Talks Pick (March 2013)

by Sherman Alexie

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Meet Junior: through cartoons and insight, he shares with us his often-times hilarious, but always-challenging, life as a teenager who leaves his Indian reserve to go to an all-white school. 

Great for: 

  • Teens and adults who would like to learn more about reserve life from one of the leading First Nations writers
  • Those interested in an introduction to Ellen Fornay’s wonderfully beautiful accompanying cartoons
  • A different take on the coming-of-age story

If you liked the book, rent the movie(s): 

It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it (13).

  • This is an honest quote: discuss whether you think it’s true and if anything can be done about it.
  • At which other points in the book does Junior discuss hopes and dreams?

Mostly, I just think Mr. P is a lonely old man who used to be a lonely young man. And for some reason I don’t understand, lonely white people love to hang around lonelier Indians (30).

  • What does Junior mean by this?

“I hurt a lot of Indian kids when I was a young teacher,” he said. “I might have broken a few bones (35).”

  • What types of problems seem to go on in the educational system on the reserve? Why is this behavior allowed?

You’ve been fighting since you were born,” he said. “You fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope (43).

  • Have you ever thought of groups of people as having no hope? Discuss this passage. Do you agree with Mr. P.?
  • What role does Mr. P. play in the book?

I stayed on the ground for a long time after Rowdy walked away. I stupidly hoped that time would stand still if I stayed still. But I had to stand eventually, and when I did, I knew that my best friend had become my worst enemy (53).

  • What division, aside from geographical, has been placed between Rowdy and Junior?

“Reardon was the opposite of the rez. It was the opposite of my family. It was the opposite of me. I didn’t deserve to be there. I knew it, all of those kids knew it. Indians don’t deserve shit (56).”

  • What, in Junior’s life, has led him to believe these things about himself and his culture?
  • What have you been led to believe about your own life? Which factors have contributed to this?

“No, I felt like a magician slicing myself in half, with Junior living on the north side of the Spokane River and Arnold living on the south (61).”

  • How else is Junior split in two? Have you ever felt split into to?

“I’m not trying to be cute,” she said. “I’m wearing this to protest the treatment of homeless people in this country. I’m going to ask for only spare change tonight, instead of candy, and I’m going to give it all to give it all to the homeless (78).

  • Is Penelope genuine in wanting to help? Is she somewhat naïve?

“Listen,” he said one afternoon in the library. “You have to read a book three times before you know it. The first time you read it for the story. The plot. The movement from scene to scene that gives the book its momentum, its rhythm. It’s like riding a raft down a river. You’re just paying attention to the currents. Do you understand that?”

  • What are the other two reasons that Gordy gives for reading a book? Do you agree? Have you ever watched a movie twice and recognized parts about it that you hadn’t noticed the first time?

“The tribal cop had to pull twenty or thirty adult Spokanes off the court before any of them assaulted a teenage white kid (146).”

  • Is there any irony here?

“I picked up the other boot and dug inside. Man, that thing smelled like booze and fear and failure (151).”

  • What does success smell like? How does Alexie use language to convey strong ideas and images?

“Jeez,” she said. “Who cares if a man wants to marry another man? All I want to know is who’s going to pick up all the dirty socks? (155).

  • How is Junior’s grandmother unique for her age?

“My grandmother’s greatest gift was tolerance (155).

  • What are your greatest gifts? Is tolerance among them?

“Penelope gorges on her pain and then throws it up and flushes it away. My dad drinks his pain away (107).

  • How do you deal with your pain?

“Maybe I don’t know anything about romance, but I know a little bit about beauty (113).”

  • What does Junior mean by this?

“I’d made it through the evening without revealing my poverty (123).”

  • Has there ever been a time when you’ve concealed something about your identity?

 

 

  • If you could cast this movie, which actors would you choose?
  • How does this book introduce you to a different lifestyle?
  • What role does alcohol play on the reserve? Why do you think it is?
  • What dictates who gets to be born where and why? Are all people given the same opportunities in life? Are all people entitled to the same education? Why or why not?
  • Discuss your favourite cartoon drawn by Junior: why does it speak to you?
  • Discuss the title.
  • Junior experiences many losses throughout the novel, yet he never loses his sense of humour: how does Alexie create this balance?
  • What role does Junior play for Rowdy and vice versa?
  • Why do you think Alexie created the character of Ted? What purpose does his personality serve in terms of making us understand how white people view the Spokanes? Is it offensive? 
All books recommended on the website have been read by The Book Dumpling. New titles are added on a continuous basis. To recommend or suggest a book, please email me

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