The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Response

NOTE* This was written well before the issues with Sherman Alexie were brought to light. 
Please see Dr. Debbie Reese’s blog for more information. 
This response is being posted late because I just finished it yesterday. I had to ask for an extension on this piece because the source material was so close to my heart. A self-assessment of the writing follows the essay.
Through the Labyrinth 

          For any kid on the reservation, life is hard. I was lucky. My parents didn’t drink or do drugs and they made sure that we always had food on the table, even if it was largely government commodities. My dad also went hunting and his friend Leroy always had some venison to share with us. I tend to think my siblings had it a little easier than I did. When they were young, Mom was working and Dad could move around more easily. By the time I finished 7th grade ¾ of my grandparents had passed, Mom had been forced into retirement and Dad was able to do less and less every year because of his disabilities. I got a job when I was 14 to pay for my school lunches and to have a little spending money. I, like Junior, was ashamed of being poor. I made $50 every two weeks and I thought that was amazing. With that money I was able to get the not-cafeteria lunches that I coveted and that was basically all that mattered to me. I had it good, if you’ll forgive the saying. While reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I found many themes that would be worth mentioning, but the one that meant the most to me was that of hope. It’s about how your life before shapes you into an adult, it’s about losing yourself to find yourself and learning not to be ashamed along the way.
          Hope can be found everywhere in Absolutely True Diary, but it is hidden. That’s how life is on the reservation. Hope is secreted away, locked up, because it is better not to have hope then to be constantly let down. Of course parents want better things for their children, but is it actually possible? Not without help and a push. Mr. P doesn’t exactly have the largest role in the book, if one went by lines mentioned but, he does have one of the most important roles in giving hope.

““Where is hope?” I asked. “Who has hope?” “Son,” Mr. P said. “You’re going to find more and more hope the farther and farther you walk away from this sad, sad, sad reservation.”” (pg.43)
Adults on the reservation hold more power over kids then some readers may realize. This goes beyond rule-making. The adult community on the reservation are Elders and to some extent they are the examples of what is and is not possible. Even with the good examples I had from my parents and my aunts and uncles, I still thought that I was going to spend the rest of my life on or around the reservation. Until I got my push, my Mr. P, my hope. Even then it takes more than a push to get someone going, to get someone out of the rut in which they believe themselves to be stuck. Junior got his help from another teacher, his coach, when he is told that he could play college basketball. “How often does a reservation Indian kid hear that? How often do you hear the words “Indian” and “college” in the same sentence? Especially in my family. Especially in my tribe.” (pg. 180) Here is found the biggest and most beautiful nugget of hope. Not many people who grow up on reservations get the chance to go to college. It’s a dream for some, but often seen as unrealistic. Before I had even finished high school I had decided that college was not for me. I would attend community college like many others and then maybe transfer to State. Transportation proved to be too difficult, so college got put off and a job at the Tribal Office was acquired. Basically unless one does really, really, really amazingly well in high school thus guaranteeing scholarships or a full ride somewhere, they aren’t going to college and I did exactly alright in high school. I did exactly enough work so that I could go on band trips and graduate. My sister was the success, she got the full ride, lived on campus, got her degree, got married and started a family! Junior is like my sister. He is getting support when he needs it and he is getting pushed when he needs it. That’s how hope shines through the fog. Wanting to do better on it’s own is not enough, one needs a hand or two or three to reach out and offer help and support.
          The Absolutely True Diary isn’t just about some kid who grew up on a reservation and is working his way to a better life. It’s about love, family, perseverance, loss, poverty and, above all things, hope. Like many kids growing up on a reservation, Junior doesn’t see much of a life ahead of him. But there is a light inside of him that catches the eye of his teacher, Mr. P, who helps push him towards the path to that something more. Junior’s teacher and coach help him see the possible paths ahead and hope guides Junior like a gold thread through the labyrinth.

Writing Assessment (Probably a lot longer than it should be, I’ll warrant you.)
          I’ve tried to write this paper a couple times (this is my third attempt) and it always came out ugly. I really could not figure out what I was doing wrong. I am pretty good at writing papers, especially if I actually care about the subject matter. Here, I believe it was an issue of being too close to the source material. If I hadn’t grown up on a reservation, maybe this would have come easier to me. While writing this paper I thought to myself how this book would be handled at a reservation high school, or a public high school near a reservation. After much thought, I believe that if this book were taught in a place like that (and it very well should be) that the teacher would not likely ask for a paper on theme, but a reader response paper. The themes would be gone over in class and given individual attention. Trying to detach one’s self enough to write about the themes coherently and not all gobbledygook is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do as a writer. Still, even though I put so much time and effort into this piece, I don’t think that it is very good. I certainly didn’t follow the assignment as I should have, but I also don’t believe that I am capable of doing anything different or better. This piece is me, for all that I did right and all that I did wrong. I am okay with that. I wrote an honest piece and stayed true to myself.

One comment

  1. Wow… great review of material AND summary of your early life. I know your family and can see the struggles, pain, joy and hope in their lives. I have sat and talked with many people (natives/indians/etc) that feel trapped on the rez (physically isolated, emotional trapped, financially stuck, or whatever reason) the theme is usually ENTRAPMENT.I love to see a story of HOPE. The rez teaches us to be trapped OR to be creative and find away to better ourselves. Usually people settle for being trapped in their excuses. Thank you Catherine for this great review and best of luck in the future.–Jeremy


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