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Literature / The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Imagine you're an American Indian. No, not a Memetic Badass or Magical Native American. No, imagine you're born with hydrocephaly, ten extra teeth, and you've had glasses since age 3. And you have a lisp and stutter even in high school. Now imagine you go to a white school. And your reservation friends hate you for it. And even there, you're smarter than the teachers.

That is the world of Arnold Spirit Jr. in Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.



  • Abridged for Children: An edition of the book published by Scholastic omits an incident of racist language and refers to it simply as "a joke involving Indians, African-Americans, and buffalo."
  • Abusive Parents: Rowdy’s dad physically abuses him on a regular basis.
  • The Alcoholic: Arnold's dad. Arnold's mom is a recovering alcoholic. He comments that almost everyone on the rez is an alcoholic.
  • Author Avatar: Sherman Alexie had hydrocephalus as a kid, and went to a white school.
  • Badass Native: Arnold gets to be a Memetic Badass for one day.
  • Baseball Episode: Technically basketball episode, but still...
  • The Beautiful Elite: Penelope. Not really "evil" like they usually are, just seriously messed up.
  • Berserk Button: Do not remind Arnold that he's poor.
  • Brains and Brawn: Arnold and Rowdy.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: There's a scene in a science class that plays this straight.
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  • Computer Wars: Dear God, don't get Gordy started on Mac vs. PC.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Early in the book, Junior mentions he is very good at masturbating.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Arnold's dog, his father's best friend, grandmother, and romance novel loving sister do not survive the novel. Heck, the Shoot the Dog moment happened at the beginning of the novel.
  • Easily Forgiven: Arnold's grandmother's last words are to ask her family to forgive the man that ran her over. Arnold is surprised and shocked that even to the end, his grandmother was still kind and selfless even towards her killer.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: Some of Arnold's drawings, including the "Pancakes of Doom," "Gordy (+ Metaphysical Boner)" and the "Invisible Mountain Gorilla Scientist."
  • Kids Are Cruel: A regular theme.
  • Kick the Dog: After Arnold's grandmother dies, Arnold loses the motivation to go the school for quite a while. When he returns, one of his teachers puts him down as one of those kids that like skipping school. Arnold's classmates aren't having it.
  • Magical Queer: Discussed, when Junior says that Indians used to think this.
  • Meaningful Name: Arnold Spirit. Rowdy. Also, Mary's nickname is Mary Runs Away.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless
  • Nerd Glasses
  • Noble Savage: Discussed and ultimately deconstructed by Arnold — he hates his family's poverty, and says that while they didn't have technology, that didn't mean they were perfectly happy the way they were and had a contempt for technology.
  • Noodle Incident: A Scholastic edition describes a racist joke told to Arnold which provokes him to punch the Jerkass who tells it as "involving Indians, African-Americans, and buffalo" rather than repeating it.
  • Racist Grandma: Inverted, as Arnold's grandma is the only character besides Arnold who is tolerant of homosexuals.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Rowdy is the red to Junior's blue.
  • Romance Novel: Parodied with Mary's romance novels.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Tautology!
  • Shoot the Dog: Literally.
  • Shout-Out: Euripides and Tolstoy, among others.
  • Take That!: Likely Ted Nugent.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The death of Arnold's grandmother, followed by that of Eugene and Arnold's sister. Given that all these deaths involved alcohol and the frequency he attends funerals, he extends this one to his entire people.
  • Wham Line: Arnold starts talking about his grandmother and then casually says that she hit by a drunk driver and didn't survive.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Penelope's eating disorder is mentioned once, early in her and Arnold's acquaintance, and it baffles him — then never comes up again.
  • The Worf Effect: Junior punches Jerk Jock Roger and gives him a bloody nose. He expects to get his ass kicked, but Roger just stares at him in shock. His cronies are too afraid to touch the kid. Later Lampshaded by his grandma when Junior goes to her for advice.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Gordy says he has a "boner" for books. However, he later reveals that he uses it to mean "joy."
    Junior: Did you just think books should give me a boner?
    Gordy: Yes, I did.
    Junior: Are you serious?
    Gordy: Yeah... Don't you get excited about books?
    Junior: I don't think you're supposed to get that excited about books.


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