I liked the sheer honesty of Alexie’s writing. Arnold Spirit (Junior) is in for a bad year, a year that starts when he decides to switch from his reservation’s high school to the all-white high school in the nearby town, a move that means that he has taken a step towards a future off rez. To the rez, he becomes a traitor. To the white high school, he’s the odd man out.
Arnold has the brutal honesty of a kid writing in his notebook, and a talent for comics (in the discussion at the back of the book, the artist, Ellen Forney, tells how difficult it was to make laboured drawings seem off-the cuff). The comics were a nice treat–every once in a while, I got to turn a page and have a visual representation of what the character saw and felt.
The comics also served another purpose–it prevented any ‘white-washing’ of the characters. The drawings of Arnold’s family explicitly showed them to be Native American, reinforcing what the text said. It was interesting to read a story from the point of view of someone on a reservation. Alexie showed a view that was not quite resigned but not quite hopeful either.
The book ends in an interesting way, but a fitting one–the end of the school year. Much like real life, the characters don’t have a good idea of what will come in the future, but they keep on keeping on.