"If you stay on this rez," Mr. P said, "they're going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. We're all going to kill you. You can't fight us forever."
"I don't want to fight anybody," I said.
"You've been fighting since you were born," he said. "You fought off that brain surgery. You fought off those seizures. You fought off all the drunks and drug addicts. You kept your hope. And now, you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope."
This unusual call to arms from Junior's math teacher makes him realize that he needs to leave the stifling, hopeless reservation atmosphere if he ever wants his life to be more than the despair he sees around him. He asks his parents to enroll him in Reardan, a non-reservation school. A school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
It would be so easy for a book like this to be excessively moralistic, to beat readers over the head with the idea that generations of white people annihilated the culture of countless indigenous people. And though there were moments where I felt like that point was certainly made explicit, this is not a predictable story where either the brown man gets beaten down by the white man yet again, nor is it a story where everybody holds hands and sings songs at the end. It reflects the complexity of real life, with painful and haunting details that could only come from real experiences of reservation life--making Junior a sort of every-boy who both suffers greatly and finds strength and friendship in unlikely places. This story has a parable-like quality, too, but also succeeds in being laugh-out-loud funny as well as touching.
Don't miss the upcoming interview with Sherman Alexie on our sister site, Finding Wonderland, during next month's Winter Blog Blast Tour.