Arnold Spirit, a goofy-looking dork with a decent jumpshot, spends his time lamenting life on the "poor-ass" Spokane Indian reservation, drawing cartoons (which accompany, and often provide more insight than, the narrative), and, along with his aptly named pal Rowdy, laughing those laughs over anything and nothing that affix best friends so intricately together. When a teacher pleads with Arnold to want more, to escape the hopelessness of the rez, Arnold switches to a rich white school and immediately becomes as much an outcast in his own community as he is a curiosity in his new one. He weathers the typical teenage indignations and triumphs like a champ but soon faces far more trying ordeals as his home life begins to crumble and decay amidst the suffocating mire of alcoholism on the reservation. (from Booklist)
Alexie does not pull any punches in this young adult novel about race, culture, and individuality. Arnold Spirit, known as Junior on the reservation where he lives, is conflicted. His family and culture encourage him to stay with the tribe, to stay on the reservation, to not look to the white man's world for hope. But Junior feels trapped on the reservation. He watches his family and friends deal with poverty, alcoholism, and violence, and he knows that if he does not leave the reservation he will succumb the the same hopelessness that is slowly killing the very culture of their Spokane tribe. But leaving opens him up to a whole different set of challenges. The other students at the small-town high school he attends treat him with suspicion, and he never truly feels like he belongs. At home, the members of his tribe treat him as a race traitor-someone who thinks he is better than the rest f them, and is betraying them by trying to "be white". Caught between these two worlds, Junior feels like a part-time Indian. When he is at school, he is always part-Indian, and on the rez he is always considered part-white. This duality of his existence begins to help him understand that identity is more than simply the race or tribe you are born into. It is also about what you do with your gifts, and about coming to terms with the fact that all of us have to make our own way, regardless of the challenges that stand in front of us. On the reservation he sees Indians who have given up, who have refused to face their challenges and try to cover them up with alcohol and violence. Despite his feeling that he is leaving something important behind, he knows what he needs to do to be a whole person.