I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book. I thought I had read it before and I couldn’t remember it. Usually, a book I like leaves some type of impression on me, but even rereading it for book club, I didn’t remember anything. However, I actually liked it this time around.
It’s a coming-of-age story about a teenage Native American boy who tries to break away from the life he lives on the Spokane Indian reservation. Junior aka Arnold has dreams of one day going off to do bigger and better things, but he knows that if he doesn’t leave the reservation, he is destined to follow in the footsteps of many before him. So he goes to Reardon High School, a school 45 minutes away, where he is the only Native American at the school. However, Junior quickly learns to navigate the dual life he now lives and is the better for it.
For me, I liked how the author brings to light the challenges Native Americans face and how they have been affected by alcohol, casinos and just living on a reservation in general. The fact that it is semi-autobiographical makes it all the more meaningful.
I also liked watching Junior grow through this book, especially while he is at Reardon. The author did a good job pointing out that although Junior is Native American, he is just like any other teenage boys who thinks about girls, sports, friends and just navigating his tumultuous teenage years.
I was one of the few in book club who did like the book. However, there was a pretty even split in terms of this book. Those who liked it thought it was an important work about Native American life and one of the few that were around. Those who didn’t like it, thought that they would have probably enjoyed it better if they were younger. Others didn’t like Junior and his attitude and couldn’t connect with the characters at all.
And then during the book club discussion, one of the organizers read up on the author and found out that he had been accused of sexual harassment in 2018. This created a whole new debate as to whether we could separate the works from the author. Some argued that since this was semi-autobiographical you couldn’t and some who liked the book before regretted doing so now that they knew about the authors’ actions. Others continue to defend the book, arguing it was still just as important because it was one of the few about Native American life that needed to be told.
Usually we would go on to dissect the book, but after this discovery, the discussion began to swing to other works that we were reading and recommendations for future reads. I was kind of disappointed because I thought there was so much to discuss in this book.