How to Teach The Great Gatsby

Sherman Alexie's autobiographical novel blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction. While the novel's protagonist Junior is his own character, Alexie drew from his own experiences as a child with hydrocephalus, or excess cerebral fluid, growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington and leaving the reservation to attend high school. Providing students with the author's background and information on the Spokane tribe will help contextualize the story and reveal Alexie's personal motives for writing this book. Since the novel discusses life on a reservation, it will be useful to have a lesson on the history of Indian reservations, tribal government, education, and issues modern-day Native Americans face.

The book also includes illustrations by Ellen Forney. Class discussion can involve why her artwork was included in the novel and how it contributes the story. Students can use these illustrations as a starting point for analyzing Junior and his search for identity and how his perceptions of himself change throughout the course of the plot.

Summary

Fourteen-year-old Arnold "Junior" Spirit lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, where he has limited opportunities and endures bullying for his physical disabilities. He must also deal with poverty, forced assimilation, and relatives who abuse alcohol. In an effort to gain a better education and become successful, Arnold attends a wealthier high school off the reservation. At this school, he struggles to form friendships and define his identity as a Native American and an individual.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Paperback

Alexie’s first young-adult novel is a PEN/Faulkner Award winner and is quickly becoming a favorite in classrooms around the country. This compelling story of a bullied teen struggling to define...

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Content Warning

This novel contains some vulgarity, sexuality, violence, and references to alcohol.

Objectives for Teaching The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

  • Discuss how Alexie uses images to accentuate the text and vice versa.
  • Explain ethnic discrimination and how it functions in the novel.
  • Infer meaning from Ellen Forney's drawings.
  • Explain the concept of being different and how it applies to the novel.
  • Comment on the effects of hyperbole and provide examples from the text.
  • Understand the protagonist's changing views of himself.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Catachresis
  • First-Person Narration
  • Foil
  • Hyperbole
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Sarcasm
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Identity — As the only Native American student at his new high school, Junior tries through this unique experience in order to find his true identity.
  • Isolation — Junior feels isolated for many reasons; he feels segregated on his reservation as well as in school.
  • Loss —  Junior's family on the reservation deals with devastating losses as a result of alcohol abuse. These deaths induce another loss—loss of hope.

Key Facts

  • Length: 288 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 600
  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Recommended Grade Band: 7 – 8

Awards

  • National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2007)
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award: Fiction and Poetry (2008)
  • Odyssey Award: "Best Audiobook for Children or Young Adults" (2009)
  • California Young Reader Medal (2010)
  • PEN/Faulkner Award (2010)

Your students will love:

  • The relatable protagonist: a high school student searching for his identity
  • The humor and emotional insight that the narrator provides
  • Learning more about Native American experiences and cultures

Students may have problems with:

  • The limited development of secondary characters
  • The over-the-top drama that can seem contrived
  • The allegations of misconduct against the author, Sherman Alexie

Free Library Resources

Available from Prestwick House:

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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This post was originally posted June 2014. It has been updated as of March 2017.