Controversial Book Review:

Lisa Morgan LM 512

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

This story is about a young Indian boy that is growing up on the Spokane Reservation. Arnold Spirit Junior is born with several physical problems that have caused him to be mistreated and teased as an adolescent. His family is poor much like the rest of the reservation. Arnold describes his family and a majority of the reservation to be dysfunctional, mostly being alcoholics. Arnold sees the reservation as a dead-end and when he is persuaded by a teacher, he ends up transferring to an all white school 22 miles from his home. His best and only friend Rowdy who has always defended him ends up hating him. As Arnold attends school in Rearden, he excels academically but is still not accepted by either his tribe or his new schoolmates. He ends up defending himself and earning the respect of his new schoolmates. As the year goes on he joins the basketball team and has to play against his old school on the reservation. Throughout the school year, Arnold has to deal with the struggle of not being accepted where he is from and knowing he doesn't belong in the place he has gone to chase his dreams. Arnold knows that the reservation offers no future for him, yet he can't shake the feeling of betrayal he feels for leaving the place that he comes from. This story deals with the concepts of family, betrayal, loss. pride, achievement, and adolescence. It portrays the real life of a teenager along with several struggles a young boy deals with that most of us haven't faced in our lifetime. I feel that this story is very real and I feel it is a good read for teenagers. There is some harsh language and racism, but it is real life. If a student reads this book, they are going to take away from it much more than a few choice words, they will see the world from another's point of view and realize if you want something bad enough you should stop at nothing to achieve your dreams.

Book Reviews

Book Review #1

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian

Reviewed by: Publishers Weekly

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. (Sept.)

Book Review #2

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian

Reviewed by: Jo Goodman

What a pleasure to discover such an original and memorable voice! 'I am really just a poor-ass reservation kid living with his poor-ass family on the poor-ass Spokane Indian Reservation.' Junior has poor sight, stutters and lisps and is susceptible to seizures. When he decides to attend the school for rich white kids twenty-two miles away, he is now alienated from two societies.

Junior's life is not easy, there is a general air of hopelessness on the reservation, and alcohol serves as a crutch to most. Even getting to school is difficult (Will there be money for petrol? Will his dad remember?). He is missing his sister badly, and feels alienated from just about everyone. However his cartooning allows for the expression of black humour, and adds to an outstanding portrait that will remain with readers. Highly recommended for its portrayal of an unforgettable character, and its celebration of the human spirit.

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Book Review #3

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

Reviewed by Pauline Skowron Schmidt

Part memoir, part graphic novel, part humor, and part pure heartbreak is the story of Arnold "Junior" Spirit. The first-person narration gives vivid details about what life is like for a teenager on an Indian reservation. Junior is bullied for not looking or acting like the other kids; his self-loathing voice compels the reader to learn more about this young man. The external conflict intensifies when Junior decides to attend the "white school" instead of the one on "the rez"; he is seen as someone who has rejected his culture and his home. What's worse is the internal conflict when Junior realizes he doesn't quite fit in at the white school, either; he expected to blend in based on intellectual ability but is isolated because of his external qualities. He describes the dichotomy with a brilliant visual (on page 57) that illustrates the dual identities he inhabits: white and Indian.

Unfortunately, Junior is bullied in both worlds and struggles to define himself and come to terms with who he really is. He wonders about the possibilities his life may hold but also fears the obstacles he will face simply because he is an Indian. He is split between these two ideas: the paltry and miserable opportunities on "the rez" just seem to discourage him, yet leaving and seeking out the great unknown is intimidating.

This text is rich in many ways and provides teachers with several topics and themes to discuss, yet the concept of the inner bully could be a powerful one to explore with students. The text is heartbreaking at times while humorous at others; adolescents will certainly enjoy the first-person narrative. Teachers could consider the theme of identity and defining yourself within the context of family, culture, high school, and society.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was the #2 book on The ALA's Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010. Reasons:Offensive language, Racism, Sex Education, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group, Violence.

List of Controversial Statements from The Newsletter of Intellectual Freedom

  1. "Numerous complaints about vulgarity, racism, and anti-Christian content."- Jan 2012
  2. A concerned parent requested to remove the book because she felt it had obscene, vulgar and pornographic language. Whatever purpose the author is attempting to accomplish is completely negated by the many objectionable parts scattered throughout this entire book."-March 2011
  3. "Vulgarity and sexual references"- Sep. 2010
  4. The Stockton School district voted to ban the book from the schools because of violence, language and some sexual content.- July 2010
  5. Several parents in Antioch, Illinois find the story vulgar and racist.- Sep. 2009
  6. In Crook County High School a parent complained the book was offensive and he was shocked by what he read. He felt it sent the wrong message. Students could get written up for using vulgar language, however, it was condoned to read in a book approved by the school.- March 2009

Reaction to Parents and Community

Dear Parent's and Community Members

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been proven to be a bit controversial.The book does contain violence, harsh language, and some sexual content.The author wrote a memoir about his life as a young teen growing up on an Indian Reservation. The book is raw, but so was the life of the character. I understand your concern for your children and students reading this book. While I feel that your child would benefit from this book, the choice of what your children read are entirely up to you. In defense of the book, I would like to address the positive points of the book.

This book received the National Book Award for Young Peoples Literature in 2007 among other honors. The book portrays real life struggles that some people deal with everyday. This teenage boy has to deal with poverty, bullying,and death all while trying to follow his dream and do the right thing. If you can look past the rawness and focus on the moral behind the story, you will see why it has been chosen to be a book allowed in the library. It sends a message of hope to some children who may be ready to give up. It shows people that they don't have to be stuck in the life they may have been born into. It has a much bigger message than just what you see as something inappropriate on our shelves. To remove this book from the shelves wouldn't be fair to all of our students. Ultimately the choice of what our children read will have to be up to the parents, but I ask you to be more open-minded and let your child see the world through several perspectives.

Reconsideration of Reading Materials

Book in question: The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian is a book that is controversial. In the event that a parent or community member or parent makes a complaint about this book being inappropriate, there are several steps and procedures I will follow as the librarian of a school.

First, I will meet informally with the person making the complaint and listen to their concerns about the book in question. After listening to their concerns, I will ask them to write a written complaint including the details of the negative effect the book has on students. I will explain to them how the process works when selecting materials for the library and the school. I will try to defend the book and explain why the book was chosen and the academic benefits the book offers to students. If the person concerned wants to proceed with a formal complaint, I will provide a letter with the following:

  • the district's selection of Instructional Materials and Reconsiderations of Instructional Materials Policies
  • the Guidelines for the Selection of Library Resources and Collection Development Plan for the appropriate school library
  • the ALA's Access to Resources and Services in the School Library Media Program
  • the Guidelines for the Reconsideration of Library Materials and the Request for Reconsideration of Library Resources form

Next, I will form a committee that includes the librarian, the principal, a teacher and a parent. The committee will read the book that is in question and discuss the allegations towards the book. We will weigh the pros and cons of the book. We will refer to the Guidelines for the Selection of Library Services and make sure it conforms to the principles of selection. The committee will create a list of why the book falls under the selection policy.

For the formal review of this book I will make sure that I get support from colleagues. Colleagues can be other librarians, teachers or administrators who have experienced this before. I will contact agencies such as ALA (American Library Associaton) and the National Coahilition Against Censorship. These agencies sometimes offer resources to librarians dealing with a book challenge.

During the formal review, the committee will have several jobs to thoroughly examine the book in question. We will read the book. We will read several reviews and viewpoints of the book. We will look for positive things about the book such as awards it has won, respected reviews of the book, etc.

In my opinion, after reading this book, reading reviews, reading opinions and cases in the Newsletter for Intellectual Freedom, I don't feel like this book should be banned from the library. I think that the parts of the book that may be deemed inappropriate for students come from an angry place in the character's life. This book is ultimately about a poor Indian boy that has a lot of anger toward to world and towards his circumstances. I feel it is important for students to view different perspectives, but more importantly, this book may relate to several students and encourage them to be persistent like the main character and not give up on their dreams no matter the circumstances.


Dealing with Book Challenges - Center for Children's Books. (n.d.). Dealing with Book Challenges - Center for Children's Books. Retrieved July 23, 2014, from

Goodman, Jo. "Alexie, Sherman (text) Ellen Forney (illus.): The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." Reading Time 53.1 (2009): 29. Student Edition. Retrieved 19 July 2014.

Pauline, S. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian. English Journal, 103, 84-85.

Selection Policy & Guidelines (HHS Library). (n.d.). Selection Policy & Guidelines (HHS Library). Retrieved July 23, 2014, from

"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." Publishers Weekly 20 Aug. 2007: 70+. Academic OneFile. Retrieved 19 July 2014.