Winner of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Sherman Alexie‘s first (and so far only) young adult novel is a pound-your-heart-wrenching, laugh-out-loud funny testament to the sheer will of a desperate boy trying to hang on to his identity as he stakes his claim on his future.
Junior, also known as Arnold Spirit, was born with “too much cerebral spinal fluid inside [his] skull,” 10 extra teeth, with “lopsided” eyes in his enormous skull. He has seizures; he stutters and lisps. With an alcoholic father, a long-suffering mother, and an older sister who hides 23 hours a day in the basement, Junior realizes early that “we reservation Indians don’t get to realize our dreams.”
Junior wasn’t supposed to live, and he certainly wasn’t supposed to grow up to be the smartest kid in his school. He survived the ‘retard’ taunts and the “Black-Eye-of-the-Month-Club by drawing cartoons and sticking close to his best friend Rowdy, an abused, violent, angry boy who “might be the most important person in [Junior's] life.”
When high school starts, in a fit of frustration, Junior throws a textbook that inadvertently breaks his math teacher Mr. P’s nose. He gets suspended, goes to apologize to Mr. P who confesses to Junior that teachers like him were hired to “kill Indian culture.” It’s Mr. P who’s sorry, and Mr. P who tells Junior he “deserves better,” that he must leave the reservation forever: “.. you have to take your hope and go somewhere where other people have hope … away from this sad, sad, sad reservation.”
With his parents’ blessing and sometimes help (when they have the gas money, when they’re sober), Junior gets out … and is labeled a traitor by everyone else, rejected even by Rowdy. Junior commutes 22 miles each way to Reardan High School, where he’s the only Indian. Poor, isolated, and lost, the price Junior pays for hope is extremely high … but he learns through new friendship, a possible first-love, and the whole basketball team, that “If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.” Helps that Junior is so amazing himself.
You’ll probably want to buy, borrow, beg for both the printed and audible versions of this title. The pen and ink book includes Ellen Forney‘s not-to-be-missed drawings … what Junior couldn’t write, he draws with gleeful abandon and unflinching honesty. The audible version has Sherman Alexie himself reading his words, giving just the right amount of squeak, bravado, mourning, and ultimate hope to his unforgettable, ‘absolutely true’ creation. Neither version should be missed … REALLY.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult