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Book Club Kits: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

In his first book for young adults, bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by acclaimed artist Ellen Forney, that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Read an excerpt from the novel.

Discussion Questions

  • On his reservation, Alexie’s main character is known as “Junior.” But when he switches to a new high school, Reardan, people call him by his formal name, Arnold. “I felt like two different people inside of one body,” he says. Do you think Junior/Arnold was just talking about his name? Or did he feel split in other ways, too? Why does he call himself a “Part-Time Indian”?

  • Hope and happiness, or the lack of hope and happiness, are big themes in this book. Do you think that the white people in Reardon are really any happier than the Indians living on the reservation? What is the biggest difference between people living in Reardon and people living on the reservation?

  • Arnold’s math teacher at Wellpinit High School, Mr. P, tells him that the teachers at the school used to beat the Indians with a stick: “That’s how we were taught to teach you. We were supposed to kill the Indian to save the child.” What did he mean?

  • Why is Arnold’s best friend, Rowdy, so angry when Arnold changes schools? Why doesn’t Rowdy want to transfer with Arnold? Do you think that Arnold was betraying his people by attending the white school in Reardon?

  • At his new school, Reardan, Arnold gets to know a book-lover named Gordy, who says that “life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.” How does this idea relate to Arnold’s life?

  • Arnold tells Gordy that some Indians taunt him: “They call me an apple because they think I’m red on the outside and white on the inside.” What did they mean? Did their comment describe Arnold accurately?

  • What’s the purpose of the humor in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? Why does Alexie use it when Arnold is clearly angry about a lot of things?

  • Do you think Ellen Forney’s illustrations add to the story? Do they help you better understand Junior’s thoughts and feelings? Why or why not?

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian  is largely an autobiographical tale. Does knowing that the story is true change your understanding of it in any way?

  • Critics have charged that Alexie paints an unfairly bleak picture of life on the reservation. Do you agree? Why do you think Alexie’s depiction is so grim? Do you think the story ends on a hopeful note? What was your overall reaction to the book?