By Sherman Alexie, Winner of the National Book Award
Junior was born with water on the brain, is prone to seizures and has a bigger head and skinner body than most people. He’s beaten up regularly and only has one friend. Now, in order to escape the life set out for him, he’s going to the rich white school miles and miles away. He’s more of a target than ever before, in fact, he’s a traitor. His story is a beautiful, shining look at life, at love and coping through all the bad stuff that besets us.
This was a fantastic book.
On the back there is an author recommendation from Neil Gaiman and he says, ‘I have no doubt that in a year or so it’ll be winning awards and being banned.’
One can only hope – any banned book is usually a life-changing one. And this definitely was.
Alexie’s writing style is conversational, abrupt, joking and real, with hidden depths that become apparent the further you read. Junior is a cartoonist so the book is peppered with ironically funny cartoons, depicting people he knows and how he feels.
So many bad things happen in Junior’s life, and at one stage three bad things happen in about as many pages. It was gut-wrenchingly, heart-stoppingly, stomach-churningly sad (and any number of other bodily descriptions). Despite this, however, there is a vein of hope running throughout the body of the narrative (do you see what I did there?). Junior can see a better life for himself and he’s determined to achieve it, despite all the hardships in his way.
Many books about disadvantaged minorities follow similar patterns to this book – a young person is beset by the limitations and difficulties of their culture and home-life, but have the courage to struggle on and rise above it. A lot of these narratives can also be incredibly insensitive, racist and make white culture seem like the saviour as opposed to the oppressor. This book doesn’t try to see the bright side or make excuses or present Junior as some angel child who is out to save his people. Instead, it looks at the things white culture would rather not know about and discusses the social, economic and cultural life on a reservation in a frank and real way.
Life on the rez isn't explained or excused, instead things just are the way they are. And that’s what I really liked about this book. That it told the truth. That it was honest.
Favourite Quotes (there were so many, I had to limit myself):
We were supposed to be happy with our limitations. But there was no way Penelope and I were going to sit still. Nope, we both wanted to fly.
I draw because words are too unpredictable. I draw because words are too limited. If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning. But when you draw a picture, then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it and say, “That’s a flower.”
She was in pain and I loved her, sort of loved her, I guess, so I kind of had to love her pain, too.