This week I tried something a little new (or my book club made, either way, I did it) and read “The True Diary of Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie. I was not sure if I was going to like it or not but I think I ended up liking it in the end, even though it made me feel different than most books do.
So the main character, Junior, as he is known on the “rez”, has had a rough life. His medical history presents an array of issues, including water on the brain, which left him with a largely unproportionate head. He claims to look like an “L” due to his overgrown feet, has glasses and his parents try hard to create the best life they can for Junior. His dad is a drunk but Junior has grown to just accept it as a fact of life, cause the way he sees it, that’s just life on the rez. His best friend, Rowdy, has a personality to reflect his name.
After an incident at the Native American school, Junior decides if he wants to be better than the world around him, he’s going to have to get a quality education. When he asks his parents if he can transfer to the school in the town 22 miles away, they agree and are surprisingly compliant. The kicker with the new school is it is a small, dominantly white population of farmers’ kids with a severely low tolerance for those different than them. When Arnold gets to school on the first day, he decides it is time to go by his first name; a new identity for his new school.
As the school year continues Arnold experiences hate from the rez and the kids at school. He also dates the prettiest girl in his class, starts on the varsity basketball team as a freshman and learns more about heartache than any teenage boy deserves to.
I think you would have to be very careful about teaching this book in a classroom setting. Depending on the environment or relationship with the Native American community, clarification on each other’s cultures at the beginning and throughout the book may be necessary. It would also be a good lesson on the importance of diversity and perspective on life problems.