Update, July 2018: Since the publication of this book study, multiple women have come forward accusing Sherman Alexie of sexual misconduct. This information has complicated the question of whether Alexie is an author we should still be promoting in schools. I would recommend all ELA teachers and school librarians take the time to read up on the Alexie story so you can make an informed decision. Some good resources are listed below to help.
Articles About the Allegations and the Response
Discussions of Whether “Part-Time Indian” Should Still be Taught in Schools
Other Recommended Books
(Thanks to Pernille Ripp for sharing so many of these!)
***original post from the Summer 2017 book study follows***
The second of five selections for our summer 2017 study of Young Adult books, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is the story of Junior, a teenage boy who lives on the Spokane Indian reservation. Dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities he has there, Junior decides to start attending a neighboring school whose student body is all white.
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Here is my video reflection, followed by a few notes:
- I thought the ending of this book was done so well. It would make a good example of how to end a story with a scene that doesn’t hit the reader over the head with a point, but definitely gives us a sense of where things are headed for the characters.
- I found a strong parallel between Junior in this book and Starr in The Hate U Give, because both are trying to live in two different worlds at once and struggling with feeling like outsiders in both. This would be an interesting focus to talk with students about the different groups they belong to, how they might behave differently in each one to better fit in, and how all of that plays out in their minds.
- The illustrations in this book make it a good choice for reluctant readers because it will break up the text and offer other ways to process the story. It also gives student writers a different way of looking at their writing; those who have never had the option of adding illustration to their work could see this as a good model to follow.
- The book offers an interesting study of the complexity of friendship, through Junior’s relationship with Rowdy and Gordy. In both cases, but especially with Rowdy, the relationships swing between vulnerability and meanness. This would make for an interesting conversation with students about the nature of their friendships, what they are willing to put up with, why they stay and what might ultimately pull them apart.
- Both worlds—the reservation and the all-white school—are portrayed in both positive and negative lights. When talking to students about this, it would be interesting to see where they see their own day-to-day lives in these two worlds…what is similar? What is different?
- Junior takes his future into his own hands by deciding to attend Reardon. This would also make for an interesting discussion question: How do students feel about this decision? How do they feel about the reaction Junior got from Rowdy and the rest of his community?
- The book contains several references to masturbation, along with a lot of profanity, so teachers should keep this in mind when making it available to students. Not a good choice for elementary students, and may be questionable in many middle schools as well.
- Smoke Signals (film also written by Sherman Alexie)
- Hawk, by Jennifer Dance
- The Heart of a Chief, by Joseph Bruchac
- Video: Interview with Sherman Alexie (This is a really in-depth interview; evidently, the book is highly autobiographical and in the interview, Alexie talks about all the aspects of his life that are reflected in the book.)
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.