This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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What is Reardan High School, Sherman Alexie’s alma mater? Is Reardan High School in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian based on Alexie’s own experiences there?
At Reardan High School, Sherman Alexie was a star student and played basketball. He later based Junior’s experiences in the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian partly on his own time there, especially regarding his struggles with race and fitting in.
Read more about Reardan High School, Sherman Alexie, and Junior’s experiences in the book.
Reardan High School and Sherman Alexie
Reardan High School, Sherman Alexie’s high school, serves as the setting for Junior’s new school. Located in Reardan, Washington, 22 miles from Junior’s home on the Spokane reservation, Reardan is a wealthy white school that doesn’t want to accept him. Alexie also experienced these struggles at Reardan, but believes that his education there lead to opportunities in his life he wouldn’t have had otherwise. Through Junior and Reardan High School, Sherman Alexie portrays these life experiences.
First Days at Reardan
Junior’s the only Indian at Reardan, aside from the school mascot. Racism, both subtle and outright, is rampant at Reardan. A few of the jocks pick on him. They never try to fight him—Junior suspects that even though he’s nerdy, he’s an Indian and, therefore, viewed as a “potential killer.” Instead of fighting him, they call him names like “Chief,” “Tonto,” and “Squaw Boy.” He knows that Reardan, Washington, is not a friendly place.
One day, an older jock named Roger asks Junior if he wants to hear a joke: “Did you know that Indians are living proof that n*iggers fuck buffalo?”
Junior has never heard anything so racist. He punches Roger in the face.
Junior suddenly feels brave. He thinks maybe this is the pivotal moment in his life when he tells the world that he’s no longer willing to be a human punching bag. He later realizes that he’s earned Roger’s respect by punching him.
As Junior starts to find his footing at Reardan, he starts hanging out with Penelope, the most popular girl in school. Junior knows that she’s only “semi-dating” him because she’s tired of being perfect, and dating an Indian gives her a blemish, with the added benefit that it pisses off her racist dad. Junior doesn’t mind that Penelope is using him because, as he sees it, he’s using her, too. Penelope is his way into the social scene at Reardan. Once he starts dating Penelope, he becomes relatively popular.
At Reardan High School, Sherman Alexie also experienced racism like the problems Junior deals with.
Finding Belonging on the Basketball Team
Junior makes it onto Reardan’s varsity basketball team, and he finally starts to feel he’s found his tribe. As the team enters the reservation for their first game against Junior’s old high school, Wellpinit, Junior can hear the Wellpinit fans chanting. It takes him a moment to realize they’re chanting “Ar-nold sucks! Ar-nold sucks!” They’re making a point of calling him by his Reardan name, Arnold, rather than his reservation name, Junior. At Reardan High School, Sherman Alexie was also on the basketball team and struggled with his identity.
When the team walks into the gym, the fans go silent. Then, all at the same time, all the spectators in the stands turn their backs on Junior, displaying their contempt towards his new identity. Junior’s angry, in part because he thinks that if his community had been this organized when it came to educating its children, he might still be there. Thinking about this irony makes him laugh, the sole sound in the gym. In a show of support, his teammates join him, and they laugh their way to the locker rooms. But Junior’s fellow tribe members don’t let up—a fan throws a quarter at Junior, leaving a gash that requires stitches, and Junior’s former best friend, Rowdy (who plays for the reservation team), knocks Junior unconscious within minutes of Junior’s return to the game. Reardan loses by 30 points.
Later in the season, Junior’s eager for Reardan’s rematch with Wellpinit, even though he feels like the “Indian scout who led the U.S. Cavalry against other Indians.” This time, Reardan destroys the reservation team, and Junior ecstatically compares himself and his team to David, who knocks out Goliath with a stone. But then he realizes something: Reardan isn’t David, the underdog; Readan is Goliath, the giant, the team with all the advantages.
Junior’s teammates drive their own cars, carry their own cell phones, have parents with good jobs, and will go to college. In contrast, more than one kid on the Wellpinit team probably didn’t eat breakfast. Two of them have fathers in prison. None of them will go to college, and Rowdy’s father will beat him for losing the game.
Having spent most of his life as the underdog, Junior’s now ashamed of his privilege. He continues to feel like only a part-time Indian.
Reardan, Washington presents Junior with strength to chase his dreams.
Penelope and Junior have ambition in common: They’re both dreamers who feel trapped in their small towns. Penelope’s dream is to study architecture at Stanford; Junior’s dream is to become a famous artist. They both want to create beautiful things, and they bond over that dream.
In the second basketball game against Wellpinit, the Reardan coach admits that Wellpinit’s team is better, but that Reardan has more heart. He then announces Junior will be starting and he’ll be guarding his friend Rowdy, who is much bigger. Junior is terrified, but his coach keeps telling Junior he can do it. He realizes that this simple sentence, “You can do it,” is one of the most powerful sentences in English, especially coming from an adult.
At Reardan High School, Sherman Alexie found opportunity and belief in himself. Through Junior, he explains this journey for finding identity.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian summary:
- How Junior gets split between two worlds when he goes to a mostly white school
- How Junior overcomes being an outsider to being part of welcoming social circles
- The tragedies of alcoholism and poverty that leave Junior with renewed strength