The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Cover of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Captain’s Log:

Module 15

Port of Call: Alexie, S. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

First Lines: I was born with water on the brain. Okay, so that’s not exactly true. I was actually born with too much cerebral spinal fluid inside my skull. But cerebral spinal fluid is just the doctors’ fancy way of saying brain grease.

Summary: Arnold “Junior” Spirit is an indian teenager living in the town of Wellpinit on the Spokane Reservation. He is frequently bullied and only has one friend, Rowdy, who is always getting into fights. Junior’s life is hard, his family lives in poverty, and yet he is still fighting off the apathy and hopelessness he sees overwhelming others. He draws cartoons (often included and providing greater insight in the book) and on his first day of high school he gets so mad at seeing that their textbooks are 30 years old that he throws a book and accidentally hits the teacher. His teacher comes to see him afterwards and pleads with him to get off the rez while he still has that energy and anger to want to change inside of him, so Junior switches to Reardan High School in an all-white town 22 miles away. Seen as ‘betraying’ his people, his friend Rowdy stops talking to him, and he is outcast by the rez society even more than he already was. On top of that, he must try and fit in at his new school in the face of oftentimes blatant racism.

A Cartoon drawn by Junior

First Impressions: This was the first book I have read from the perspective of a modern native american living on a reservation. I knew living conditions were poor, but had no idea how poor. This book is semi-autobiographical for Sherman Alexie, and I found it to be a fascinating, sometimes horrifying read. I read this book very quickly and would be very interested in reading a sequel.

Suggestions for use: This is a story about persevering in the face of adversity so I would recommend it be read by teenagers having trouble fitting in. I also feel this book addresses culture-clash and race issues in a powerful way, so this book is recommended for pretty much anyone else – we all deal with racism at some point in our lives.

Reviews:

Publishers Weekly: “/* Starred Review */ Screenwriter, novelist and poet, Alexie bounds into YA with what might be a Native American equivalent of Angela’s Ashes, a coming-of-age story so well observed that its very rootedness in one specific culture is also what lends it universality, and so emotionally honest that the humor almost always proves painful. Presented as the diary of hydrocephalic 14-year-old cartoonist and Spokane Indian Arnold Spirit Jr., the novel revolves around Junior’s desperate hope of escaping the reservation. As he says of his drawings, “I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.” He transfers to a public school 22 miles away in a rich farm town where the only other Indian is the team mascot. Although his parents support his decision, everyone else on the rez sees him as a traitor, an apple (“red on the outside and white on the inside”), while at school most teachers and students project stereotypes onto him: “I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other.” Readers begin to understand Junior’s determination as, over the course of the school year, alcoholism and self-destructive behaviors lead to the deaths of close relatives. Unlike protagonists in many YA novels who reclaim or retain ethnic ties in order to find their true selves, Junior must separate from his tribe in order to preserve his identity. Jazzy syntax and Forney’s witty cartoons examining Indian versus White attire and behavior transmute despair into dark humor; Alexie’s no-holds-barred jokes have the effect of throwing the seriousness of his themes into high relief. Ages 14-up.”

Staff. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time indian. Publishers Weekly, 254(33), 70.
School Library Journal: “/* Starred Review */ Gr 7–10— Exploring Indian identity, both self and tribal, Alexie’s first young adult novel is a semiautobiographical chronicle of Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, a Spokane Indian from Wellpinit, WA. The bright 14-year-old was born with water on the brain, is regularly the target of bullies, and loves to draw. He says, “I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.” He expects disaster when he transfers from the reservation school to the rich, white school in Reardan, but soon finds himself making friends with both geeky and popular students and starting on the basketball team. Meeting his old classmates on the court, Junior grapples with questions about what constitutes one’s community, identity, and tribe. The daily struggles of reservation life and the tragic deaths of the protagonist’s grandmother, dog, and older sister would be all but unbearable without the humor and resilience of spirit with which Junior faces the world. The many characters, on and off the rez, with whom he has dealings are portrayed with compassion and verve, particularly the adults in his extended family. Forney’s simple pencil cartoons fit perfectly within the story and reflect the burgeoning artist within Junior. Reluctant readers can even skim the pictures and construct their own story based exclusively on Forney’s illustrations. The teen’s determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie’s tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.”
Shoemaker, C. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time indian. School Library Journal, 53(9), 190.
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A Bad Boy can be Good for a Girl by Tanya Lee Stone

Cover of A Bad Boy can be Good for a Girl

Captain’s Log:

Module 14

Port of Call: Stone, T.L. (2006). A bad boy can be good for a girl. New York, NY: Wendy Lamb Books.

First Lines: I’m not stuck up.

I’m Confident.

There’s a big difference.

Summary: Three girls record their encounters with a ‘bad boy’ in their highschool. Each is a confident, unique girl who nonetheless find themselves entranced by a relationship with this charismatic, handsome heart-breaker who knows all the right moves. Their stories are written in unrhyming verse, and the book flows very well despite it’s thin-columned formatting which I usually find to be distracting. First we follow Josie, who gets her heart broken by the boy ‘T.L.’ and leaves a note in the back of Judy Blume’s Forever in her school library to warn others of this dangerous playboy. Each of the following two girls (Nicolette and Aviva) also become involved with T.L. before, or despite, receiving warnings from other girls. Soon there are many notes in the back of Forever talking about each girl’s experiences and lessons, and while there is heartache and anger, each girl finds strength within herself to learn from the experience and grow into a more confident, savvier woman.

This book is very easy and interesting to read, you really get a feeling for the girls’ individual personalities, and the reader gets caught up in their emotions and painful life-lessons. This book does describe sexual encounters, although the language stays tasteful and non-explicit, but the story does not glamorize the sex, nor does it condemn it. Instead, the author takes a very healthy and realistic view of the girls’ sexuality and emotional states that led them to make important choices. Ultimately this is a very important book for girls to read, because it addresses sexuality and relationships from a strong-female point of view, and each girl learns important lessons about herself and boys like T.L.

First Impressions: I found myself interested in the story from page one, and probably read the entire book in less than an hour. This is a powerful book, and while I can see that its approach to sex may be controversial for some, I think it has a very important message most girls should hear.

Suggestions for use: Great reading for pre-teen and teenage girls developing their own personailities and identities, particularly those who are becoming, or already, sexually active.

Reviews:

School Library Journal: “Gr 9 Up–Three girls succumb to the charms of one sexy high school senior and emerge wiser for the experience in this energetic novel in verse. Josie is a self-assured freshman who values her girlfriends over boys until a hot jock focuses his attention on her and her simmering hormones break into a full boil. Confused by her behavior, yet unable to control her desire, she acts out every romantic cliché she has ever disdained, until the boy drops her and she experiences the chill of rejection. It is Judy Blume’s Forever that sparks Josie’s fire again, and finding a few blank pages at the back of the library’s copy, she sends a warning to the girls of her school. Next readers meet Nicolette, a junior who sees her sexuality as power. A loner, she’s caught by surprise at her own reaction when this popular boy takes notice of her. Suddenly she thinks she sees the difference between sex and love, and then, just as suddenly, he’s gone. Finally, Aviva, a pretty, smart, artsy, and funny senior, is stunned when the jock seems to want her. She gives up her virginity, only to be disappointed in both the sex and the boy. Furious, Aviva heads to the library to check out Forever, now crammed with the words of girls who suffered the same fate at the hands of the same boy. The free verse gives the stories a breathless, natural flow and changes tone with each narrator. The language is realistic and frank, and, while not graphic, it is filled with descriptions of the teens and their sexuality. This is not a book that will sit quietly on any shelf; it will be passed from girl to girl to girl.”

Oliver, Susan. (2005, December 19). Book of the week – a bad boy can be good for a girl. Retrieved from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA6291077.html

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy:

“The Plot: Josie, Nicolette and Aviva are 3 different teenage girls who each fall for the same bad boy, TL. A book in verse.

The Good: The verse is the same sort that teenage girls write, so you really get into the heads and into the emotions of the three narrators.

This is frank in its treatment of teens, sex and sexuality. While its blunt, it’s not graphic … meaning I’ve read things that are more explicit in most mainstream romance novels. Meaning, the teens who would be reading this probably will have read those novels.

Josie is just starting high school and says, “I’m not stuck up. I’m confident.” But it’s easy to be confident and sure of yourself when you’ve never been in a situation that could cause doubt or could bring temptation. I’ve read studies that wonder why do girls change at 12, at 13, lose their confidence? I think because its easy to be strong when you’ve never been tested. Josie is tested. And luckily is made stronger by the experience rather than broken by it.

Nicolette is a junior who sees sex as “all about the power. Who’s got it and who doesn’t. If I say who and I say when and I say what then I have it. Simple as that.” She’s about to find out it isn’t that simple.

Aviva is a senior, but since she’s not in any one particular clique she’s a bit out of the loop about the gossip. She’s elated that TL knows her name. And finds out she also believes what she wants to believe.

Each girl struggles with the conflict between how TL makes her feel — emotionally flattered and physically turned on — and what her head is telling her. Because with each girl, there are signs that TL is indeed bad: a manipulator. A liar. A user. And each girl, for one reason or another, refuses to see the truth of the situation because of emotions and hormones. Hears the whisper, this isn’t quite right, yet ignores it.

Is a bad boy good for a girl? Each girl is left a little older and wiser. Wiser about herself. And while I hate to talk about “messages” and prefer to let the story speak for itself, I hope that the teenagers reading this will be able to apply this to their own lives and recognize the bad boys before they get hurt.

TL is, no doubt, self-involved, a manipulator and liar. He’s a user. OK here’s a comment that’s not about the book but about the boy: he’s not unique. Why? Why do boys and men think it is acceptable to use people this way?

In the book, TL’s protected by his status (jock, popular) and his friends, including girls. The book also shows how girl v girl competition over a guy allows a guy to be a player. And finally — communication. The girls who are his victims are silent from fear or embarrassment, or ignored because they aren’t the cool kids. Or, as is the case with Nicolette, suffer from “it won’t happen to me”-itis. There’s also very much the “blame the victim” attitude amongst TL’s peers: that the girl should have known better. (Ah yes the wonderful, if you’ve been lied to or manipulated, its your fault for believing, rather than the fault of the one who lied. Great stuff, logic. Not.)

A final thing I like about this book is that there is no good boy. At first, I was a bit upset about that, thinking, there are good guys out there, it would be nice to have at least one show up. But when I reread ABBCBGFAG, I realized it would have been easy and expected to have at least one girl end up with a guy who is not “bad.” Because the point of the book isn’t the boy, its the girls.”

Burns, Liz. (2006, February 6). A bad boy can be good for a girl. Retrieved from http://yzocaet.blogspot.com/2006/02/bad-boy-can-be-good-for-girl.html