Reviews provided by Syndetics
Publishers Weekly Review
Screenwriter, novelist and poet, Alexie bounds into YA with what might be a Native American equivalent of Angela's Ashes, a coming-of-age story so well observed that its very rootedness in one specific culture is also what lends it universality, and so emotionally honest that the humor almost always proves painful. Presented as the diary of hydrocephalic 14-year-old cartoonist and Spokane Indian Arnold Spirit Jr., the novel revolves around Junior's desperate hope of escaping the reservation. As he says of his drawings, "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." He transfers to a public school 22 miles away in a rich farm town where the only other Indian is the team mascot. Although his parents support his decision, everyone else on the rez sees him as a traitor, an apple ("red on the outside and white on the inside"), while at school most teachers and students project stereotypes onto him: "I was half Indian in one place and half white in the other." Readers begin to understand Junior's determination as, over the course of the school year, alcoholism and self-destructive behaviors lead to the deaths of close relatives. Unlike protagonists in many YA novels who reclaim or retain ethnic ties in order to find their true selves, Junior must separate from his tribe in order to preserve his identity. Jazzy syntax and Forney's witty cartoons examining Indian versus White attire and behavior transmute despair into dark humor; Alexie's no-holds-barred jokes have the effect of throwing the seriousness of his themes into high relief. Ages 14-up. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
Arnold "Junior" Spirit, encouraged to want more than the Spokane reservation offers, enrolls in an all-white high school off the rez. To his Indian friends, Junior is a traitor; to white kids, he's a curiosity. Alexie draws us into this semi-autobiographical story of reservation poverty, alcoholism, and the dignity of upholding ancient traditions with poignantly witty prose and well-paced, compelling, and culturally authentic narration deserving of the 2009 Odyssey Award. Standard: Students will be able to recognize and discuss cultural stereotypes depicted in a story. Learning Activity: In a group, students can create a chart that compares and contrasts the similarities and differences between life on and off an Indian reservation. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Arnold Spirit, a goofy-looking dork with a decent jumpshot, spends his time lamenting life on the poor-ass Spokane Indian reservation, drawing cartoons (which accompany, and often provide more insight than, the narrative), and, along with his aptly named pal Rowdy, laughing those laughs over anything and nothing that affix best friends so intricately together. When a teacher pleads with Arnold to want more, to escape the hopelessness of the rez, Arnold switches to a rich white school and immediately becomes as much an outcast in his own community as he is a curiosity in his new one. He weathers the typical teenage indignations and triumphs like a champ but soon faces far more trying ordeals as his home life begins to crumble and decay amidst the suffocating mire of alcoholism on the reservation. Alexie's humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn't pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt. A few of the plotlines fade to gray by the end, but this ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure. Younger teens looking for the strength to lift themselves out of rough situations would do well to start here.--Chipman, Ian Copyright 2007 Booklist
Horn Book Review
Read by the author. (Middle School, High School)Alexie's singular wit and candor is more obvious than ever in this stellar performance of his own award-winning novel about a Spokane reservation teen who decides to attend the local all-white high school. The recording renders the listener teary-eyed one minute and laughing out loud the next. Alexie knows firsthand the voice of his main character Junior, and he plays it up, using his "singsong reservation accent" to the utmost. In the print edition of the book, drawings and cartoons help to heal and relieve heartbreak for Junior; Alexie's narration is so personal, and so perfectly conveys the very essence of Junior, that listeners will not miss them. Brought to life by Alexie's autobiographical intimacy, this audio will make a lasting impression on every listener. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Book Review
Alexie nimbly blends sharp wit with unapologetic emotion in his first foray into young-adult literature. Fourteen-year-old Junior is a cartoonist and bookworm with a violent but protective best friend Rowdy. Soon after they start freshman year, Junior boldly transfers from a school on the Spokane reservation to one in a tiny white town 22 miles away. Despite his parents' frequent lack of gas money (they're a "poor-ass family"), racism at school and many crushing deaths at home, he manages the year. Rowdy rejects him, feeling betrayed, and their competing basketball teams take on mammoth symbolic proportions. The reservation's poverty and desolate alcoholism offer early mortality and broken dreams, but Junior's knowledge that he must leave is rooted in love and respect for his family and the Spokane tribe. He also realizes how many other tribes he has, from "the tribe of boys who really miss . . . their best friends" to "the tribe of tortilla chips-and-salsa lovers." Junior's keen cartoons sprinkle the pages as his fluid narration deftly mingles raw feeling with funny, sardonic insight. (Fiction. YA) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.