Hello! This is the first YA book review that I’m posting for my blog here on Live and Lit Love! This entry was actually first written for a class, so it is in the format that it was required to be in (my following review posts will be similar).
(written while stopping at various points throughout the novel)
Response Number One:
Since I finished the book before the directions for this reading journal were assigned, I will simply summarize the entire storyline:
Junior, an academically gifted teenager on the Wellpinit reservation, is at the bottom of the social food chain in the community. He does have, however, “hydro brain” and one best friend, Rowdy. But as he enters high school, he realizes after an incident in the rez school (which involved him throwing an aged geometry book at his teacher’s face) that he doesn’t want to stay trapped on the reservation for the rest of his life like the rest of his family and community. He decides to go to the closest neighboring school, Rearden, in order to break free from the alcoholic pull of the reservation. Although he was an outcast before, he stands out even more as the only non-white student at Rearden and as a traitor on the rez.
This book chronicles the hardships of a life split between two identities: one of low-expectation/low-achievement on the reservation, and one of confusing white privilege at Rearden. Junior uses his artistic cartooning to gain insight on the people around him and the situations he experiences as he navigates through the conflicts between these two worlds.
Response Number Two:
I noticed that Junior took on a few traits from the people he loved. For a while, it crossed his mind to start beating up on everyone at Rearden so he could get more attention and respect, which sounds like Rowdy. Before basketball games, Junior finds that he’s a “nervous yucker,” meaning that he throws up due to pre-game nerves. Although it isn’t intentional vomiting, this sounds slightly reminiscent of Penelope’s bulimia. Does this further reflect that Junior is part-time Indian, part-time white? Does this reinforce the phenomenon in which the people closest to us influence us the most? Does this make Junior a more empathic person?
Response Number Three:
It may be because I haven’t read a YA book in a long time, but I loved the ease of the diction in this book. It’s as though Junior was right in front of me, telling me what had happened “today.” This, despite heavy topics like racism, bulimia, masturbation, white privilege, etc. For some of these reasons, I can see why the book was/is on the Banned Books list. It also seems to further the Indian stereotypes of alcoholism and low expectation/success (though I know that Alexie is known for writing that appears to do this, and though he says that he writes about what he sees as the truth). Regardless, I did enjoy this book.
“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.”
I was starting to understand. He was a math teacher. I had to add my hope to somebody else’s hope. I had to multiply hope by hope.
“Where is hope?” I asked. “Who has hope?
“Son,” Mr. P. said. “You’re going to find more and more hope the farther and farther you walk away from this sad, sad, sad reservation” (42).
“Who has the most hope?” I asked.
Mom and Dad looked at each other. They studied each other’s eyes, you know, like they had antennas and were sending radio signals to each other. And then they both looked at me.
“Come on,” I said. “Who has the most hope?”
“White people,” my parents said at the same time (44).
The white kids began arriving for school. They surrounded me. Those kids weren’t just white. They were translucent. I could see the blue veins running through their skin like rivers (55).
“I’m an Indian boy,” I said. “How can I get a white girl to love me?”
“…The guy who wrote the article says people care more about beautiful white girls than they do about everybody else on the planet. White girls are privileged. They’re damsels in distress,” [Gordy said].
“So what does that mean?” I asked.
“I think it means you’re just a racist asshole like everybody else” (115)
- I picked the above quotes because they display moments when Junior is facing one of the major themes in the book, which has to do with white privilege
“Okay, so it’s like each of these books is a mystery. Every book is a mystery. And if you read all the books ever written, it’s like you’ve read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn.”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” Gordy said. “Now doesn’t that give you a boner?” (97)
- I would just like to point this idea out to students. Books are so amazing, and I would really want to find ways to share my book-love with them. This is a good one.
I mean, jeez, all of the seniors on our team were going to college. All of the guys on our team had their own cars. All of the guys on our team had iPods and cell phones and PSPs and three pairs of blue jeans and ten shirts and mothers and fathers who went to church and had good jobs…
But I looked over at the Wellpinit Redskins, at Rowdy.
I knew that two or three of those Indians might not have eaten breakfast that morning.
No food in the house.
I knew that seven or eight of those Indians lived with drunken mothers and fathers.
I knew that one of those Indians had a father who dealt crack and meth.
I knew two of those Indians had fathers in prison.
I knew that none of them was going to college. Not one of them.
And I knew that Rowdy’s father was probably going to beat the crap out of him for losing this game (194).
- This quote speaks about socioeconomics and also a bit of white privilege. I would want to point this out to students, and have them mull over it. Is this true? Do you agree with Junior’s statement about college? Was the victory still worth this? Something like that.
Jeez, I’ve been to so many funerals in my short life.
I’m fourteen years old and I’ve been to forty-two funerals.
That’s really the biggest difference between Indians and white people.
There’s nobody who’s been to more than five funerals.
All my white friends can count their deaths on one hand (199).
- This, for the mere power behind the words. Wow. This was one of the many moments in the book where I read the lines over and over again, trying to grasp its entire meaning. Death isn’t one of the usual comparisons people make between a “me” and “them” (unless we speak of mortality rates within a culture/country).
“Your sister is dead because you left us. You killed her” (Rowdy, 210).
- One of the most painful lines of the story. I don’t want it to be true, but it kind of is…I would want to ask students about their take on this.
Commentary on Author’s Style
- Breaks the fourth wall by directly addressing the reader.
- Explores intimate and intense topics while still maintaining Junior’s voice, entwining the story with humor and seriousness at the same time
- The addition of the pictures to the text helped break up the text, and some of the pictures feature a more complex or symbolic humor that might require a different cognitive process
- Laugh/cry simultaneously
- Susceptible: complexity
- “Gut it out” (15): slang idiom
- Rez (15): slang
- Brawling (16): new word
- Benchwarmer (28): slang
- Decrepit (30): new word
- Contempt (143): new word
- “waved the white flag” (159): idiom