I truly enjoyed this book. I loved Alexie’s language choice when speaking as a teenage boy with brain damage that lives on the reservation. In the opening chapter, when Junior talks of his seizures, brain damage, and the treatment he receives on a regular basis, most of us would say, forget it, run away and get away from all of that. But he knew that he was born into this family and that he was destined for a certain lifestyle but he had a few good influences that helped change his mind. Then when he opens his science book on the first day of school and sees his mom’s name in the front cover he gets furious and throws the book and actually hit his teacher in the face. His teacher was mad but forgave him for that act of rage and urged him to move to Reardan to get a better education. He faced torture from his best friend Rowdy as well as everyone on the rez because he is seen as a traitor now.
But thankfully, though the changes were rough, Junior made it through and his use of art became his escape and answer for many of lives most frustrating and confusing moments. Pretty soon the most beautiful girl in school, Penelope, liked Junior (who is actually named Arnold) and they became an “item.” Soon it was time to try out for the basketball team. Back on the rez, Arnold was good but he didn’t think he had a chance in the new, white town. Coach put him up against Roger, the big senior, to play one-on-one and after getting knocked down over and over, Junior hung with him and proved he was tough. Coach even called him his “weapon of mass destruction.” He was a freshman who made the varsity team..he was a warrior! (and I love this illustration!)
However, when the basketball team played the rez for the first time, his former best friend, Rowdy, gave him 3 stitches in the forehead and a concussion that landed him in the Spokane hospital. He felt so defeated but determined. The next time they met on the court Coach made Junior guard Rowdy and in the opening 10 seconds he defeated Rowdy and led Reardan to a victory. He proved himself but felt ashamed because the players on the rez team came from nothing and he felt like he betrayed them all.
After basketball season, death began to strike and the epidemic would not be easy for Junior and his family. First, Grandmother Spirit was hit by a drunk driver and died in surgery then Eugene was shot in the face by another drunk friend, then his sister, Mary, who lived in Montana, was killed when her trailer home burnt down when her and her husband were inside. When Junior was at his sister’s funeral he ran into the woods and ran smack into Rowdy, who was watching from a distance. Even though Rowdy still hated Junior for betraying him and moving, his heart began to soften. Summer break was right around the corner and one day when Junior was sitting at home, Rowdy came in and said he was bored, so bored that one time he looked up what ‘nomadic’ meant and said that Junior was nomadic– he was going to leave, travel, and make something of his life. It was Rowdy’s way of saying he was happy for Arnold, but missed him. For once, Arnold felt at peace with his decision to go out into the world and make a difference– that it wasn’t his fault all of these family deaths happened, he still had to go out and make a life of his own.