Week 2 – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie


“Alexie’s humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn’t pull many punches as he levels his eyes at stereotypes both warranted and inapt… This ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure. [Readers] looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here” (Chipman, 2007).

In Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior (also known as Arnold) is a fourteen year old Indian living on a reservation. After realizing that he (along with everyone else on the reservation) will be forever stuck in a cycle of poverty, Junior decides to break free from the reservation and attend an all-white school known as Reardan. The novel chronicles his journey through his first year at the school, as he makes friends, joins the school basketball team, finds a (sort-of) girlfriend, and learns how to navigate life and loss as a poor Indian teen.

As the review from Booklist above mentions, Sherman Alexie fills what would otherwise be a completely dark, tragic book with enough humor to have you laughing through your tears. I’m actually really glad I was able to read this and The Perks of Being a Wallflower back-to-back, as I noticed both similarities and differences between the two stories. Both novels deal with the personal account of a young teenage boy’s first year in high school, but beyond that, the two are entirely different. Where I felt that Perks was often throwing issues at me for the sake of covering everything possible, this novel felt more raw and realistic. To be perfectly clear, I enjoyed both novels very much, but something about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian spoke to me more than The Perks of Being a Wallflower did.

As a disclaimer, I am a white, middle class female who is now 23 years old. I know this book was not geared towards me, and that I can’t attest to the accuracy of the situations and characters presented within it. I do not know what it is like to grow up on a reservation and not have enough money to get myself to school every day, so I cannot relate to Junior (the novel’s protagonist) in that sense. I could, however, feel his pain throughout the novel, and I found myself relating to him on an emotional level. He is only a fictional character, but I wanted so badly to help him, and hated watching him go through hardship after hardship with little mercy from the rest of the universe in which he resides. The saddest part, however, is that this novel made me realize that there are teens out there, Indian and otherwise, who live this reality every day; they wonder how they’re going to get to school, and where their next meal is coming from.

I admit that, during my time in high school, the furthest thing from my mind was wondering how other teens around me were getting to school, and whether they’d eaten a proper meal beforehand. I was (as many teenagers in middle class situations are) entirely focused on the drama going on in my own life (bullying, grades, fitting in, etc.) to wonder what life would be like if I was not afforded the privileges I’d been given. This book made me really stop to think about the hardships that many American teenagers actually face, and this realization made the book that much more real for me. “The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don’t know… And no matter how much you learn, there is so much more you need to learn” (Alexie, 2007, p. 97). This quote rang painfully true for me, as this book taught me a great deal about humanity and finding humor in impossible situations.

While this book was not written for me, it still spoke to me and made me think critically about the world, which is what I believe good literature is supposed to do. For a teenager (or even a pre-teen) in a similar situation to Junior, this book could change his or her entire world. Whether a teen is Indian or not, people of every race, gender, religion, and creed can understand poverty, as every one of these demographics has been afflicted with it. While a poor teen might not be living in the exact same situation as Junior, I feel like he could potentially be an extremely relatable character to many young people reading this book.

Alexie is able, through his writing, to take even the darkest situation and find the humor in it. Take the following quote, for example:  “I used to think the world was broken down by tribes… By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not” (Alexie, 2007, p. 176). In this scene, Junior’s entire class walks out of the classroom in protest when the teacher scolds him for missing school (due to uncontrollable reasons that I will not spoil here). Junior, shocked and touched by this, begins to laugh, as he has just realized that these white kids who seemed to hate and distrust him only months ago are suddenly on his side. In this one scene, racial barriers are broken (however realistically), and Junior begins to see that we are all a lot more alike than we believe we are.

We all have to deal with death, poverty, and many other circumstances over which we have no control. This, I believe, is why I related so much to Junior despite coming from an entirely different world: Alexie’s writing shows us that the human experience, while it might differ depending on your race and where/how you are raised, is fundamentally the same, and that none of us have to walk through life’s hardships alone. I don’t think there is any better message out there for teens who are struggling to make sense of a sometimes senseless world. If I were to recommend this book for classroom or library use, I would definitely use it to begin a discussion about poverty, racism, and the human spirit in any literature unit. A library could easily use this book as part of a display on diversity, as the protagonist is a Native American and the novel is written by a Native American author (something that I have yet to see in young adult literature). Whatever the use, I believe this book should be shared with as many young people as possible, as it promotes a very positive (and, at times, humorous) message of love, acceptance, and compassion for those facing hardships around us.


Alexie, S., & Forney, E. (2007). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown.

Chipman, I. (2007). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The Booklist, 103(22), 61.


Week 2 – The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky


“Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst- the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists… [The protagonist] oozes with sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.)… A plain-written narrative suggesting passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety (Kirkus, 1999).”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the story of a young boy named Charlie, who is entering his first year of high school and is absolutely terrified. Written in letter form, the novel chronicles a year in his life, taking the reader on a journey as Charlie makes friends, falls in love, discovers new literature, and learns how to become a participant in life rather than an observer.

This title was unique for me in that I’d already experienced it on the big screen (having seen the film long before deciding to read the book). Because of this, I sometimes found myself getting distracted with mental comparisons between the book and film, but I thankfully realized very quickly that I didn’t remember the film well enough to really let it hinder my experience. There were certain scenes (such as the Christmas party and the “infinite” tunnel scenes) that I distinctly remembered as being part of the film, but the book (as books often do) had time to really explore much more than its Hollywood counterpart. This was certainly an example of the benefits of taking time to experience both a novel and its film adaptation, as both have their own unique emotional experience, and together they can create a more complete picture.

Sheila Egoff, a Canadian critic, defines the “problem novel” as being “very subject-oriented with the interest primarily residing in the topic rather than the telling. The topics – all adult-oriented- sound like chapter titles from a textbook on social pathology: divorce, drugs, disappearing parents, desertion and death” (As cited in Cart, 2011, p. 32). While I don’t believe that Perks is necessarily a problem novel, I could certainly see characteristics of the problem novel within it. While I thoroughly enjoyed the story, it sometimes felt as if Chboksy was covering controversial issues for the sake of covering them. Drugs, sex, domestic abuse, homosexuality, pregnancy, abortion, molestation, smoking, and a whole slew of other issues make brief appearances in the book, often seeming to be glossed over in favor of the next big issue.

That said, there were aspects of this book that I really enjoyed. For example, I loved that the novel was written in letter form, as it often felt as if Charlie was talking directly to you (given that the recipient of these letters is never revealed, and is referred to simply as “friend”). In addition, being a shy and anxious teen myself, I could really relate to Charlie’s discomfort throughout the book. While his excessive crying might seem, to some, to be unrealistic, I loved the rare opportunity to see a character with actual anxiety in a novel having realistic panic attacks. And, because I related so well to Charlie as an adult, I can imagine many teens who read this book will be able to relate to him as well.

Perhaps my favorite quote from the entire novel happens early on, when Charlie is talking to his English teacher about “problems at home.” Accidentally revealing the fact that his sister was hit by her boyfriend, Bill (his teacher) pauses and says, “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve” (Chbosky, 1999, p. 24). This quote, while probably a popular one, really spoke to me because of its resounding truth. There are many characters in this novel with severe self-esteem issues, reflecting a demographic (teens) who might also have a great number of self-esteem issues. I was one of those teens, and this quote really rang true to me because it is a reminder never to settle for something because we “think we deserve it.”

I also really enjoyed the idea of being “infinite,” as it is often said that teenagers feel invincible, as if the world and it’s problems can’t touch them (p. 39). To me, this quote signifies those moments in life that we feel will never end, the moments we look back on and remember until our dying days. I think this quote is a reminder that, while we may not be invincible, and while we may have to face hardships in life, there will always be moments that make us feel “infinite.” That, to me, was the overall message of this novel, and it was one of many reasons I was able to overlook its problems in order to see the worth behind it.

As this book is on many “frequently banned” lists, I think it would be an excellent book to display in both schools and libraries for Banned Books Week. In addition, this book would be an excellent one to discuss in any school curriculum, as it brings up many issues that teens may be facing and is excellent for provoking and inspiring conversation. Despite its problems, I would recommend this book to any teen (or adult, for that matter) who sometimes feels like an outcast in life. Whether you think it tries to cover too many issues or not, this book will certainly help anyone struggling through high school to feel more normal. No matter their personal demons, this book will most likely address them, making it an excellent novel for teens who need a character they can really relate to.


Cart, M. (2011). Young adult literature: From romance to realism. Chicago: American Library Association.

Chbosky, S. (1999). The Perks of Being a Wallflower. New York, NY: MTV Books/Pocket Books.

Kirkus. (1999). The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Kirkus Reviews, (2).


Week 1 – Forever by Judy Blume



To kick off this blog, I’d like to discuss the first novel on my list: Forever by Judy Blume. This novel focuses on the story of eighteen year old Katherine Danziger, who has just begun a whirlwind relationship with a boy named Michael Wagner. Faced with the realities of graduating and moving on to college, the two are forced, throughout their new and exciting romance, to answer  one question: What does forever really mean?

When I finished this book, I honestly didn’t know what to think of it. Because I was not a teenager in 1975, when this book was published (in fact, I hadn’t even been born yet), I can’t speak to how relevant this book may have been to teens at the time. I did notice, however, that there were quite a few issues brought up in the book that are still very relevant today. For instance, Katherine, the main character, has a grandmother who is heavily involved in Planned Parenthood. I’m sure that, by now, everyone has heard of the current controversy facing Planned Parenthood for their willingness to provide abortions to women. Indeed, the topic of abortion comes up several times throughout the novel, as does birth control, venereal disease, and the practice of safe sex. All of these are still extremely relevant to today’s society, and I would argue that venereal diseases, in particular, are even more important to discuss today, as we now have a whole new host of them to worry about (such as HIV and AIDS).

While I’d never stopped to think about how big of an issue teenage pregnancy was in the 70s, I can certainly attest to the fact that it’s still a huge problem today. All over America, there are school districts that continue to insist that abstinence-only sex education is a useful teaching method to prevent unwanted teenage pregnancies. In a study done in 2011 by Kathrin Stanger-Hall and David Hall, however, the opposite proved to be true. “Based on a national analysis of all available state data, our results clearly show that abstinence-only education does not reduce and likely increases teen pregnancy rates” (2011, p. 2). Because of the continuing insistence that we simply cannot encourage teens to practice safe sex (and, in fact, can’t discuss sex with them at all), I understand why this book has continued to be challenged since it was published.

While I can certainly see why this book garnered quite a bit of ire upon its publication (and continues to shock and anger parents today), I also think it’s crucially important that this book be allowed to exist uncontested in school and public libraries. While it was by no means the best book I’ve ever read, it deals with the concepts of sex, love, and the future in very mature, no-nonsense ways. While it portrays this type of romance as something to be desired, it doesn’t give the reader unrealistic expectations for relationships. It encourages teens to be safe about sex, and to wait until they’re really ready for it, and I think it does so in a very smart and honest way. At the same time, it promotes a healthy relationship; Michael and Katherine may not be perfect, but Michael always respects her wishes when it comes to sex, and stops every time she asks him to stop. They don’t always get along, but they clearly respect and care about one another. That, I think, is extremely important for any young teenage girl to see, even in a fictional setting, as much of today’s media doesn’t really care to spread the message that consent and mutual respect is important.

When I was in high school, the big series to read was the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, and while I reflect back on my love of that series today and cringe, back then it seemed to be portraying the perfect relationship. As an adult, I now realize that there is no such thing, and this book (aimed at the same age group as Twilight) really seems to understand that. When Katherine and Michael first have sex, it’s awkward, ends too soon, and leaves Katherine unsatisfied and Michael embarrassed. While sex becomes a large part of their relationship, it is not the only thing that matters; in fact, they spend a large part of the book getting to know one other and sharing their interests. Sex is in no way glorified as being something that everyone needs to do, and I think that’s a good thing for a young girl in high school (who may or may not still be a virgin) to hear, especially when she’s most likely being pressured by her peers to lose her virginity as soon as possible.

According to Carolyn Caywood in her review of the novel, she seems to agree that it is important for teens to be exposed to this book despite attempts from adults to keep it off of the shelves. “It is part of the nature of adolescence to want to understand sex. Before Forever, teens found other sources mostly middle-aged, neurotic, symbolic, and confusing. By contrast, relationships in Forever err on the side of idealism and are therefore more relevant to teens” (1996, p.62). Again, while I in no way believe this book was perfect (as some of it was rather cheesy and idealized), I do think it’s important in that it opens up a dialogue about sex, one that many teens would otherwise be afraid to confront. This is the kind of book I wish I’d known about as a teen, as I feel like it would have helped me to breach the subject of sex with my parents (something I was very afraid to do at the time).

One of my favorite parts of the book happens near the very end, when Katherine is spending time with Michael, her friend Erica, and Erica’s boyfriend Artie. While not a discussion about the importance of safe sex, it calls into question a fear that many high schoolers have upon graduating and preparing for college. Frustrated because he won’t be able to go to the school he really wants to go to, Artie says, “Sure, you spend your whole life trying to make it and for what… so you can wind up in some cancer ward full of needles and tubes with nobody giving a shit… that’s what you’ve got to look forward to… that’s what we’ve all got coming” (Blume, 1975, p.144). Erica, trying to comfort him, simply responds, “You’ve got to enjoy whatever you can and forget about the rest” (p. 144). That, to me, is the message of this entire novel.

Nothing lasts forever, even if (like the relationship in this novel) it seems like it will. Blume is constantly reaffirming this point throughout the novel by including moments (like Katherine and Michael’s graduations and the death of Katherine’s grandfather) that highlight the temporary nature of everything in life. More important than the messages about sex, consent, and being smart about protecting yourself, I think this is the ultimate message of the book: that life is constantly changing, and something that seems like it’s going to last forever is not always meant to. Again, while this wasn’t the best young adult book I’ve ever read, I completely respect Blume for writing a work that contests a lot of widely held beliefs about abstinence and sugar-coating material written for teens.

If I happened to be a sex education teacher, I would personally be happy to use this book as a classroom teaching tool to open up a dialogue about sex, though I know that there are many out there who would disagree with this. I, like many others, believe that teens are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for, and it’s important for us to remember never to talk down to them about important issues simply because we think they can’t handle the truth.


Blume, J. (1975). Forever. New York City, NY: Simon Pulse.

Caywood, C. (1996). Deja views. School Library Journal, 42(6): 62-64.

Stanger-Hall, K. F., & Hall, D. W. (2011). Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S. Plos ONE, 6(10), 1-11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024658