Michael Bowler's Reviews > Pukawiss The Outcast

Pukawiss The Outcast by Jay Jordan Hawke
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

it was amazing

Loved this book! It is wonderful. I had read a previous novel by this author and looked forward to this one with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. His story is heartfelt and emotional, stocked with endearingly likeable characters, and a terrific setting. Main character Joshua is fourteen and gay, half Ojibwe Indian and half white. His Indian father could best be described as uninvolved in his life, until he up and leaves one night. Joshua’s mother is a wrong-headed fundamentalist Christian who obviously has no idea who Jesus Christ is given the hate and vitriol she spews, especially about gay people. When Joshua’s dad takes off, his mother decides she needs to “find herself” and dumps the confused boy unannounced at his Indian grandfather’s doorstep. Alas, Joshua’s mother is the least defined character in this story and honestly appears not to love her son at all. She comes across as wishing she never had children, without any explanation as to why she’s so harsh and uncaring toward a good boy any parent should be happy to have. Even the most extreme religious people usually at least love their own kids, so why doesn’t she? She doesn’t even know that he’s gay. In any case, she’s not in the story much and serves as the villain of the piece, so maybe that’s just as well. However, she really makes the reader identify with Joshua right off the bat as a boy in need of love and nurturing. Despite his initial anger at being dumped on the rez with a grandfather he barely remembers, this quiet spot nestled within the woods of Northern Wisconsin is where Joshua’s life as a human being finally begins.
His grandfather, Gentle Eagle, is an elder on the Ojibwe reservation, while also running a recreated 16th century Ojibwe village as a summer tourist attraction and a way to keep the old ways alive for the present day Indians living there. At first, Joshua feels out of place, but his grandfather’s gregarious and somewhat precocious sixteen-year-old assistant, Mokwa, takes him under his wing, quickly adapting the newcomer to life on the rez. As someone who has always had a fascination with Native American culture, I loved learning about Ojibwa history and tradition right along with Joshua. When Joshua decided to master the art of Fancy Dancing like the great manitou Pukawiss, who according to legend, created the dance, I was right there with him. Powwow Fancy Dancing is magical and if you’ve never witnessed it first hand, I strongly recommend attending a powwow some day. You’ll be dazzled.
In addition to the dancing, Joshua develops strong feelings for Mokwa, exacerbated by the older boy’s shameless flirting with him. Is Mokwa a Two-Spirit, as Joshua learns gay people are called, and could he be as attracted to Joshua as the younger boy is to him? Or is Joshua merely seeing in the other boy what he wants to see?
Joshua’s struggles to accept his sexual orientation, however, take a back seat to his acceptance of his Native heritage, a heritage denied to him his entire life by a mother who thinks all that Indian stuff is devil worship. Gentle Eagle lives up to his name. He’s patient and loving toward Joshua, something the boy has never known before. Through him and Mokwa, Joshua finds that his heritage is in his blood, and hidden in the mysterious dreams he has almost nightly. But there are still issues for him to conquer. What do the dream images signify? What is that strange word Mokwa and his grandfather have uttered on more than one occasion, but refuse to explain? What does it mean to have courage and be brave? Will he ever feel comfortable enough to tell Mokwa and his grandfather the truth about his nature since he’s never trusted anyone before? And will he ever have a true Indian name like the other Ojibwe? These are some of the strands that the author weaves seamlessly together into a wonderful, magical tale.
Joshua is a terrific teen protagonist, and all the teens portrayed are likeable and believable. Mokwa is a little undefined because he often sounds much older than he is and there’s no indication of his educational level. Even when speaking with his fellow teens, as opposed to adults, he tends to use higher-level vocabulary. It distracted me occasionally, but did not detract from the story. All told, these teens act and think like real teens, unlike the kids I see in many a bestselling YA book these days.
One of my pet peeves in YA lit is kids who talk and act like adults, especially middle school kids, and I see that constantly in books that feature young characters. I’m currently reading two bestselling series that do this to the point that I want to pull my hair out in frustration. As a high school teacher for twenty-five years who still works with teens on a daily basis, they do not talk in one-liners all the time like stand-up comics, nor do they sit around and rationally discuss a serious personal issue or situation. I happily put both those other books aside to read Pukawiss, and felt sad when I finished because the journey was so charming and the characters so real that I hated to see it end. Mr. Hawke knows teen voices, and he knows that emotions rule teens, not reason and hokey-jokey dialogue. Many props go to the author for keeping his teen characters real, while giving each of them a distinctive voice. From Jenny’s sunny disposition, to Little Deer’s sarcasm, to Mokwa’s love for life, even to the stormy Black Crow’s seeming anger over everything, they all sprang to life and engaged me with their humanity.
And Joshua is one of my favorite teen characters ever! He’s a good boy with a good heart in search of himself and his place in the world, and the author renders him with poignant realism and heartfelt abandon. I love this kid. It makes me sad because his only experience with Christians is his hateful and venom-spewing mother and others of her ilk, and as a result he’s come to disdain Christianity. Sadly, this happens all too often when kids live with or interact with so-called Christians who may have their favorite interpretation of the Bible memorized, but wouldn’t know Jesus if he walked up and tapped them on the shoulder. They’d think he was some homeless guy and tell him to get lost.
Like the Ojibwe religious tradition Joshua discovers, Christianity as taught to us by Christ is beautiful. It’s about loving and nurturing people (all people, including gays) and bringing those people together, rather than driving them apart.
Joshua is so real in my mind that I have hopes he’ll one day meet genuine Christians who live the faith as modeled by Christ so he’ll know what it’s really all about. I know, it’s crazy hoping life gets better for a fictional character, right? But hey, that’s what great writing does for us. It makes characters live and breathe. It gives them life. And if the author is successful, those characters become part of us and live within us forever. Joshua is just that kind of character. I love him. I want to adopt him. And I’ll never forget him. I suspect you won’t, either.
8 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Pukawiss The Outcast.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

January 16, 2014 – Started Reading
January 16, 2014 – Shelved
January 17, 2014 –
55.0% "It's awesome so far. Loving it much more than the other two bestsellers I'm reading."
January 17, 2014 – Finished Reading

No comments have been added yet.