I listened to the audio book (read by the author!) so I missed the illustrations but I believe I gained a lot from the story telling. This is a coming-of-age (semi?) autobiographical high school memoir. Junior lives on the Spokane Indian reservation. He's frustrated by the limitations of the rez school and the hopelessness that bogs down everyone around him, so he decides to go to the next town over for high school. The white high school offers opportunities and hope that the rez never could, but lacks familiarity, community and culture he's used to.
Junior is pretty introspective and thoughtful for a teenage boy. His relationships with the flawed but good-hearted people who make up his life were memorable and touching. I loved his best friend, his sister, Grandmother Spirit and his dad's best friend. I loved his kind parents who loved and supported him even as they drank their way through his childhood. He learns to get along with the white kids in his new school, befriend them, date them, learn alongside them and play basketball with them, even though they are so clueless about his reality.
Junior takes issue with Tolstoy ("Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.") in that combative, teenager way that made me cheer for him. Junior's theory: Happy families aside, all unhappy families can trace their unhappiness back to alcoholism. I mean, I live with a teenage boy who takes major issue with some Big Thinkers, so the Tolstoy part felt real to me.
The titular conflict (junior's status as a part-time indian) plays a major role in the plot but it felt less front and center than I anticipated. There is a lot going on in this kid's life, and the two worlds he has to navigate just seems like another thing he has to get through.
This book addresses some pretty deep issues - child abuse, death, identity, poverty, alcoholism, racism, the modern plight of the North American Indian - and has some heart-wrenchingly sad moments, but the overall tone is fairly straight-forward and casual; the book presents a stiff upper lip through some difficult moments. Meghan wrote in her review
, "You want to give this book to Holden Caulfield and tell him to stop whining so much." (seriously) It's tough in parts, but the telling is fresh, the characters are endearing and there is a persistent hope to draw you through.