Oh this book. Oh it hurt my heart. All the time I was reading it and thinking how it reminded me of an illustrated, more grown-up version of There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, which I read when I was a little kid. I still tear up slightly when I read There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom. Don’t judge. Louis Sachar can’t tug on my heartstrings?
Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation, where he regularly gets beaten up because he is a weird kid. He has a stutter and a large head and brain damage from being born hydrocephalic, and moreover he’s a smart kid who is interested in school. If it weren’t for his best friend Rusty, the toughest kid on the reservation, he would be completely alone (as, be it said, would Rusty). Until one day he gets the opportunity to go to the white kids’ school, away from the reservation.
Now, I read this book a while ago and haven’t really been able to decide what to say about it. I liked it. It tugged, as I said, at my heartstrings. For sure. But it didn’t make me want to dash out and acquire the rest of Alexie’s oeuvre. There was something a bit slapdash about it, like Alexie couldn’t decide where the heart of the story should be. This isn’t to say it failed at being affecting, because it really didn’t. It just didn’t feel like it was all of a piece. It felt like a group of short stories pulled apart and the pieces distributed at intervals throughout a book. I wanted it to feel like a complete story.
That said, the book was vivid in its depiction of reservation life, and it was well-written and felt true. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a young teenager. Indeed, I did recommend it to my friend who tutors a young teenager. (But I recommended Markus Zusak more.)
Lots of people have read this and been more eloquent than I have been. Here they are.