Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Class and Poverty in Young Adult Literature

      Having read The Skin I'm In and quickly approaching the end of The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, I feel as though Maleeka and Junior are similar in many ways. One way in particular, being their unfortunate situation of living in poverty. As a result of their financial situation, both characters felt embarrassed and often tried to hide this portion of their lives from peers. 
      From the very beginning of The Skin I'm In, Sharon G. Flake describes the living conditions Maleeka lives in: dealing with a mother who would much rather spend her money on lotto tickets than provide clothing for her child. This ultimately causes Maleeka to wear torn clothing and/or borrow things from her friends. While I was reading this, I asked myself: if I were to read this in my classroom, how many of my students would be able to relate to Maleeka's story? I commend Sharon G. Flake for shining light on the issue of poverty; as so many of us are forced to deal with it on a daily basis. If I were to in fact read this in my classroom, I hope that my students would be able to understand the impact that poverty has on an individual's life, regardless of whether or not they themselves are able to relate to Maleeka's story. 
      I began to empathize with Maleeka as she struggled to deal with having to borrow clothes from friends and/or wear torn clothing. This is something that I often saw while student teaching at Rochester Discovery Charter School. Considering the fact that uniforms were inforced, many students were unable to purchase several pairs of khakis and collared shirts. It would break my heart to see my students come in everyday with either the same, worn-out uniform or having no other choice but to borrow one of the extra uniforms that the school had purchased. Through The Skin I'm In, readers are able to understand the experiences of someone living in poverty and how it impacts their daily life. Maleeka struggled with this and it was evident through her emotional state while in and outside of school. I could only imagine how Maleeka felt having to deal with something she had absolutely no control over. 
      Through Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian readers are subjected to the story of Junior/Arnold Spirit and his experiences living in poverty. It was nice reading two stories that focused on similar issues of social class and poverty, yet told completely different experiences. Unlike Maleeka, living in poverty was considered a norm for Junior, since all of the other Indians on the reservation did as well. Junior did not know any other life, until he transferred to Reardan. After becoming a student at Reardan, Junior began to feel embarrassed by how little his family had. My heart ached when he was unable to purchase pictures or food while out for the winter formal with Penelope. When reading Sherman Alexie's book, it's important to take a step back and understand the magnitude of what the characters are dealing with.  While at Reardan, Junior began to reflect on how different his life was from hs peers, especially in terms of his social class. This can easily be seen when he explains to Rodger that he does not have enough money to cover the cost of the food he ordered for Penelope and himself. The fact that Rowdy quickly handed Junior $40 symbolizes the extreme difference in social classes that is evident in this book. Junior would never be able to give someone $40, let alone tell them not to worry about paying him back. While I was reading, I often wondered whether or his friends at Reardan truly understood the financial situation he was dealing with. Through The Abolsoutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, readers are able to look at the issues of social class and poverty from two different perspectives: that of Junior living on a reservation and the experiences of his Reardan friends whom lived 20 minutes away. 
      Although Maleeka and Junior had completely different experiences of living in poverty, I enjoyed learning about two unique situations. Both Sherman Alexie's and Sharon G. Flake provided readers with an opportunity to dive into the lives of individuals living in poverty and how it ultimately shapes who they are as individuals. I can honestly say that after reading both of these books, I have a deeper understanding if the impact poverty has on a child's life. This is something that must be understood and sympathsized with while working with students from a diverse population. 


  1. Keara,

    I love how you made this connection between these two books! I think that Sharon Flake and Sherman Alexie did an amazing job discussing these issues in a way that was honest and relatable. Not only does this allow students to relate to, empathize with, and learn from these characters, but it provides an opportunity for teacher's to gain some new understandings and perspectives as well. As poverty becomes an ever increasing problem in our schools, I think it is important for us as educators to understand the struggles that our students face so that we can better understand them and help to give them what they need as best as we can.

    I think both of these authors also did a good job at talking about other issues that Maleeka and Arnold had to deal with such as the loss of a parent and a parent dealing with substance abuse. Not only is this something else that a reader can relate to, but it also makes you stop and think about what people may have to deal with in their personal lives. I think that is one of the most important take aways because it goes to show that you should be kind to everyone because you never know what they might be dealing with or trying to overcome.

  2. Keara, if there is one specific new insight you have gained from reading these two books, what would it be? You mention having "a deeper understanding of the impact poverty has on a child's life." What is one aspect of children living in poverty that you have a more keen awareness of?

    1. Dr. Jones,
      It irks me that my original response to your comment did not post! Let's try this again. When I stated that I had a "deeper understanding of the impact poverty has on a child's life," I was referring to how ashamed children often feel of a situation that is out of their control. So ashamed to the point when they try to hide this portion of their life. Page 120 of The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian brings light to this issue, with a picture that illustrates "How to Pretend You're Not Poor." As I stated in our discussion in class on Thursday, I found myself questioning how often we hear these excuses from our peers. It is important to become aware of the fact that there is often more behind the excuses they make. Unless you are living in poverty yourself, you will never be able understand what that person is going through. Yet, this does not mean that you cannot sympathize with them.

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