Arnold Spirit is a teenager living on the Spokane Indian reservation in Washington, where everyone calls him Junior. As a baby, he was hydrocephalic, which caused seizures, poor vision, and a perception from his peers that he was different. Most of the others on the rez picked on him, except his family, and his closest friend, Rowdy. Rowdy was a tough guy and would fight anybody over anything, especially anyone who got too rough with Junior.
Beginning high school at the rez became a turning point for Junior. He got upset that the textbooks were so old his mom’s name was in them. He was suspended for throwing the book, which hit the teacher, Mr. P. During his suspension, Mr. P visited Junior and convinced him to get his education off the reservation.
Most of the Indians picked on Junior because he was different, now they picked on him because he was a traitor for leaving the rez.
Reardon was Junior’s new school, it was twenty miles from the rez. Sometimes his dad was sober enough to drop him off and pick him up, but every once in a while, Junior had to walk. He was the only Indian at the white school, and it was a rough start for him. He was half white at the rez, and half indian at the school. It took some time but Junior found his place, realizing he was as smart and athletic as anybody at Reardon. While finding himself there, he also lost some close friends and family back home. Rowdy believed he was a traitor and went for blood during the high school basketball game. Alcohol was also a major contributor to the losses at the rez.
Reading this book, I was reminded of the character’s in NS Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, which focuses on an American Indian’s struggle with modernization- living in the white world. It is a struggle between balancing everything your family knows and has held on to for centuries, or going out on your own to find a better life. A struggle of honoring your ancestors to keep the culture alive or turning your back on them to leave the rez. It is a tough battle, and many on the rez don’t fight it. They stay and become prisoners there.