This novel leaves readers with a wide range of emotions after reading it. I was shocked. I cried, I laughed and I empathized with Junior and his stories of love, loss, high school, and basketball. Arnold Spirit aka Junior candidly tells the story of his birth with hydroceles (water on the brain), the murder of his beloved dog because they were too poor to take it to the vet and his decision to attend a white high school 22 miles away from his reservation, and the impact the decision has on his relationships with his friends and family. Cartoons also help tell the story as Arnold uses his drawings to show his emotions and support the humor used to combat bullying by both the white kids and even the reserve residents.
“It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Sherman Alexie admitted in an interview that Junior’s life is a whole lot like his own life, which included his decision to attend a high school off his reserve. Alexie does not hold back on things like racism, sex, or poverty, alcoholism and other stereotypes. The novel does not hold back on language, racist comments or other things that might seem too gritty and it has lead to challenges and outright bans in school around the US. But, he tells it like it is in his view. His reaction to a library banning his book? He sent a box of books to the same place.
Review by Andrea, CLP-Hill District