This is a quick read, but no less powerful for the ease in which I read it. I had read the book previously, but when it was an option for our group read I will admit that I voted for it. I think it’s one of the more important books to come out in recent years. This book hits me pretty hard and is kind of difficult to talk about, but this is my attempt to do so. The first time I read this novel, I rated it four stars but I’m adding another star because I do think the book deserves it (I suspect past!me was bothered by the copious amounts of sex talk in the book).
Arnold Spirit Jr (Junior) is a kid growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, but he’s challenged to attend high-school in nearby white town where the only other Indian is the school mascot. The book is a description of his freshman year as Junior goes to school and deals with all of the issues associated with life on the reservation as well as the added struggles as he tries to leave that life behind.
There are a lot of really powerful moments delivered quite simply and with gut-punching accuracy in this book. While the overall tone of the novel is hopeful, because Junior is getting out of the reservation, there is still the very depressing reality of what he is leaving behind. The part that hit me the hardest was when Junior talked about how the reservations were prisons, we (white people) sent the Native Americans to reservations and hoped they would die off but they forgot to do so. Unfortunately it’s very easy to think that they did, as for the most part NA are regulated to historical figures in our current culture. It’s utterly maddening.
I keep thinking about this story where individuals from dozens of tribes are trying to prevent an oil pipeline from being built near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, a pipeline that was deemed to dangerous to build near a white town I should add. Much like this novel, this protest shows a people who refuse to give up and die even though the dominant culture would really, really like them to.
This book also hits me on a very personal level that I’m having a hard time articulating without feeling like I’m making it all about the white woman. My cousins are part Native American, and when my uncle divorced my aunt (I don’t know, is she still my aunt at this point? It’s been over two decades and yet I still call her Aunt in my head) they moved to St. Ignatius, which was mentioned in this novel. One of those cousins died several years ago in an alcohol related car accident. Can I blame reservation life? I don’t know. Would he not have become a drunk and drug addict if he didn’t live on the reservation? I don’t know. Would my cousin still be alive if they’d never moved there? I don’t know. But I think about these things. This book makes me think about these things, and it hurts. I think I really need to be say is that the individuals aren’t ever to blame here. I like that this book makes that clear. Junior’s parents love him and his sister very much, they do what they can for the both of them, and tragedy still hits their lives with great frequency. You cannot blame the individuals, you have to look at the system that creates this terrible hopeless life that only allows a few people out.
I’m really glad I re-read this book.