In terms of format, this is a really neat book. It is part text and part drawings. Junior, the narrator (and the part-time Indian) is an artist. He lives on the Spokane Indian reservation and, after an incident where he throws a textbook at a teacher after he feels the world collapsing in on him, he enrolls in the school in the next town over. The mostly white school. He’s a smart and funny kid with a lot of artistic talent. I was really taken by the voice of the narrator, who inhabits this in-between place. He’s Spokane, but because he’s left the reservation school and at least one of his friends feels abandoned he doesn’t always feel at home when he’s at home anymore. But, he’s always the outsider at his new school. Junior’s experiences highlight a lot of problems on reservations. There is crushing poverty and we see that through Junior and his family. There is lack of access to resources and we see that through his first school and through his interactions with his best friend and with his sister (who used to dream about being a romance author and now just lives as a shut-in in his parents basement.) There is racism when he leaves the rez and there is a high instance of alcoholism. There is cultural appropriation and cultural theft. We see all of these things in Junior’s story. While he has a lot of high points in his first year at his new high school, he has some terrible low ones. This book had me in tears more than once. But, it was an interesting read. In particular, it was really interesting to see this character struggle with and work through his identity moving between these two worlds that he inhabits.
And, while I have no doubts that things really are that bad (lack of access to resources, poverty, alcoholism, racism, troubling representations of native peoples, violence towards indigenous people, in particular indigenous women), I… I felt like towards the end of the novel that I was maybe being told things that someone may have thought I wanted to hear? Or, maybe like I was voyeuristically looking in on someone else’s tragedy and pain that was set up in a manner particular for my consumption? I don’t know. The characters were real and believable, the text was believable. I just…felt like I was being sung a sad song because that was the theater I’d walked into.
That being said, the book really is a neat format and the characters were really likable and if you know going into it that this book is going to make you cry and that’s something you don’t mind I recommend it.
This book counts as my book with a character who is Native America, Indigenous Mexican or First Nations in the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Challenge.