The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

April 25, 2008 at 7:53 am 1 comment

After reading Flight I have my doubts about Sherman Alexie, but I certainly enjoyed Part-time Indian.  It’s no surprise that this title comes under the heading of Personal Identity, as the whole book is about Junior’s struggle to define his own life and move beyond feeling torn between his disparate selves. While I agree with some of my classmates that at times the book feels a little heavy-handed (what just hit me over the head? Oh, THE MESSAGE), I do think the theme of overlapping and conflicting identities is particularly important for young adults.

I had a psychology professor once who said, “We have as many selves as people about whose opinions we care.” (I think he was actually quoting his mentor, whose name escapes me, but regardless…) I love that concept. For teens it may be particularly apt–a different self for home, school, work, the soccer team, the drama club, the boyfriend or girlfriend. And for teens without adequate support, those selves can be frighteningly different from one another. (I just finished Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature, so perhaps I have dual lives on the brain.)

The theme of identity is also particularly appropriate given the current political climate.  The fierce battle for the democratic nomination has led to a presidential race largely framed in terms of race and gender, with  pundits and supporters from all sides jumping to  draw lines in the sand.  It would be naive to think that  young adults aren’t seeing the way identity politics play out even in casual conversations about Clinton and Obama.  I like to think that books like Part-time Indian could help teens navigate their own complex identities without trying to fit themselves into restrictive categories.


Entry filed under: books. Tags: , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Linda  |  April 29, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to have teens read Part Time Indian and then use that as a jumping off point for a discussion the politics of the age. I wonder if it would actually work? Have to think about it some more.

    The quote you posted, “We have as many selves as people about whose opinions we care.” is exactly right-on for this book and the theme of the week. One thing I thought about as I read the quote is that for teens this is really a moving target. Who they care about changes by the hour sometimes. And, as a result their identities change by the hour sometimes. That’s partly why being a teen is so difficult – it’s hard to know who am I going to be for the next hour. The changing of identities isn’t as seamless for teens and that can be quite scary I think. (For teens and the adults who serve them.)


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