Teenagers are weird.
Looking back on my experience, I still don’t get it. I at once felt like everything was the end of the world and like nothing mattered.
This, from a middle-class suburban white girl.
I sat down with Sherman Alexie’s novel with the intention of reading a few lines before bed. I finished it that night. Classified as Young Adult, this book can and should be read by everyone.
As a Spokane Indian, living on the rez, Junior/Arnold (both names are his) struggles through what is probably the worst freshman year I’ve ever heard of. Not only struggling with identity, hormones and teen strife, Junior wrestles (often literally) with his best friend, transferring schools, poverty, death, alcoholism and his own burgeoning ambition.
“Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.”
Junior’s honest and poignant encounters with his differences make for good laughs as well as pangs of recognition for anyone who’s navigated the rough waters of growing up. Alexie pulls no punches when talking about the reservation life as a prison – a real one, no metaphor.
“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”
Breaking through barrier after barrier, with little recognition of the feat he his accomplishing, Junior makes a truly successful name for himself at his new, white school. The inherent drive and fortitude he exhibits really made me wonder how I ever complain.
Yet, Alexie is anything but heavy-handed. Junior is a crass, upset, masturbating teenage boy who, for lack of any other coping mechanism, is baldly, weirdly, amazingly honest.
It is a literary voice rooted in Alexie’s own life, reflecting upon and loving a broken community undone by its own pitfalls and trapped by its historical experience.
“Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.
You can do it.”