Finished audio 9-30-09, rating 5/5, YA, pub. 2007
This is a first person account of Junior, a 14-year-old on the Spokane reservation. Born with physical problems that have made him a target of bullies, Junior uses his brain and his best friend, Rowdy, to navigate through school. When he becomes frustrated with what textbooks are being used and hurls one that hits a teacher, he faces his first school disciplinary problem. Instead of letting Arnold wallow and fail the teacher convinces him he needs to go off the rez to school, one with rich, white kids where he can learn to make his way in the non-Indian world.
Junior is Arnold at his new school and his acceptance by a popular girl leads Arnold to flourish socially as well as academically. But he still has to go back to the reservation when the school day is over and the people there resent him for trying to become white. Arnold must learn the fine balance of living between two worlds. His parents and grandmother are very supportive, but his best friend Rowdy has disowned him.
I cannot say enough good things about this book or hope to do it any sort of justice, but I’ll just say that I adored it and so did my husband. It was humorous, irreverent, painful, honest and often laugh-out-loud funny. This book tackles serious issues like alcoholism and death, but also provides hope for Arnold in the form of old friends and new who see something special in him.
My husband and I listened to the audiobook read by the author and we both agree that this was part of its appeal for us. Alexie uses his distinctive voice to breathe life into Arnold and it was perfection. I understand that there are book versions that have illustrations and I might have to buy one of these for my library. It’s that good.