I’ve been meaning to read this book for a long, long time. Finally, I galloped through it this afternoon, and already I want to read it over again. It’s what Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here wanted to be. It’s what so many young adult novels want to be.
Junior (aka Arnold Spirit) has 99 problems, and extra cerebral fluid in the brain is just one of them. He also is part of the Spokane Reservation, which means he’s super poor. And picked on. And surrounded by death wherever he goes. So in a fit of desperation/vision/bravery/temper, he decides to transfer to the all-white high school 22 miles away from the reservation. He’s the only Indian kid there, and he has to find a way to get out of the life that is slowly eating away at him. But since he still lives on the reservation, he has to face accusations of betrayal from everyone, including his best friend Rowdy.
I’ve read several of Sherman Alexie’s short stories, including “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” so I was prepared to like this novel. I wasn’t prepared to be blown away. There were several times when I wanted to laugh, or cry, or do both AT ONCE. Alexie really gets at the heart of human nature, of needing to laugh when you really want to cry, of getting up when you are knocked down, of hoping amidst crushing poverty. It opened my eyes, and I think that I want to read it with my students this next year. Alexie is very funny, but it’s a dark kind of funny that also hurts a bit–he doesn’t sugarcoat anything, which is what makes this such a deeply personal and powerful novel. This is definitely one of my favorite young adult novels of all time (right up there with The Book Thief).