Reading Level: Young Adult
National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2007), School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2007), American Indian Library Association Award, South Carolina Book Award Nominee for Young Adult Book Award (2010), Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2008) Florida Teens Read Nominee (2009), American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Young Adult Book (2008), Horn Book Fanfare (2007), ALA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2008), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry (2008), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2011), James Cook Book Award Nominee (2009)
Plot Summary: Fourteen-year-old Junior's life on the Spokane Indian Reservation seems doomed to stagnation and monotony. Determined to create a new and better future for himself, Junior leaves the poor reservation school for the all-white high school in town. His decision is just the beginning of a year of changes in Junior's life and the lives of his family.
Red Flags: Language, adult themes, sexual content
My Rating: B+
This book was more mature than I expected it to be (side note: why are my expectations so far off lately?)--I thought, judging by the kind of amusing title, that it would be more of a light-hearted romp. And while it DID have its funny elements, a lot of the story is pretty heavy. People die, bad things happen and there are all kinds of life lessons going around. It had a good blend of humor and drama that felt genuine--like a real person having a hard time but still trying to see the lighter side. Junior's resilience felt true and I liked that aspect of his personality. A lot of his other aspects I did not really care for, and often I thought he was a gross teenage boy. I did also like that he loved and was loved by his family--that is always refreshing in a YA book. And I will readily give Sherman Alexie credit for handling a lot of tough topics and keeping the sense of hope intact. This book could have easily been terribly depressing.
In all honesty, I could have done without the illustrations. This is just personal preference (I can totally see the appeal for a lot of readers), but they always took me out of the story a bit. Sometimes the narrative did the same thing, in that in one sentence things are funny and in the next something awful has happened. I didn't love the writing style, which is another preference thing. It's straight forward and easy to read, but it kind of annoyed me off and on.
Overall, it was a compelling story and the characters were different and vivid, even though I didn't always like them. It's always interesting to read about people who have such different lives from your own, and I appreciate this book for that. I didn't love it, and I forgot it more easily that I expected, but I am glad to have read it at last.