This young adult book tells the coming of age story of Junior, a Spokane Indian growing up on an Indian reservation in Washington. Growing up with medical problems and general all-around geekiness he is already an outsider in his community. Shocked by the limitations for Indians to learn and advance on the reservation, Junior decides to attend high school in a white community nearby. Junior finds himself becoming an invisible man – hated on the reservation for being an “apple” (red on the outside, white on the inside) and a curiosity among the white teens at his high school.
Junior is a great character and his quick wit as narrator makes this a funny novel. It’s also heartbreaking as many tragedies – most of them alcohol-related – occur during the short time of the narrative. It’s surprising to me how harsh Alexie through Junior is in criticizing the Spokane for alcohol abuse and general lack of achievement as well as writing approvingly of white people. On the other hand, this book does not shy away from the historical and institutional truths that create the reservation and crush hope. Junior also writes often about his love for Indian culture and his family. So it’s a nuanced approach paired with the emotional rollercoaster of adolescence.
This is a funny, heartbreaking, eye-opening and well-written novel. I suspect it’s a good read for teens, but it’s also good for adults.
Recommended books: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison