If I Ever Get Out of Here
By Sally Engelfried,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Relatable tale of music-loving Native Tuscarora boy in '70s.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Teaches readers about the lasting and ongoing repercussions of the U.S. government's attempts to assimilate Native Americans into White culture. Will inspire readers to think about preconceptions that people may form based on race or cultural traditions. Readers will learn about the extreme poverty experienced by some people on reservations.
You're stuck with whoever your family is, but that can be a source of comfort, support, and happiness -- even if some relatives are a little annoying. At the same time, it's OK to make new friends who have identities, home lives, and cultural practices outside your realm of experience. Real friends don't judge each other and do stick together during difficult times.
Positive Role Models
Lewis hides some parts of his home life from his best friend and lies to his mother about some elements of his new friendship because he fears neither will fully understand the other, but he learns it's better to be honest. Lewis tries his best to deal with a student bullying him, and when adults in authority refuse to help, he takes a stand by refusing to go back to school until something is done to keep him safe. Lewis' Uncle Albert has mental health issues from the Vietnam War but is a constant source of kindness and support.
Many characters are Native American; specifically, Tuscarora-enrolled tribal members living on the Tuscarora Nation Reservation, where author Eric Gainsworth (enrolled Onondaga) grew up. Book shows complexity of reservation life -- extended families and cultural celebrations compete with a lack of resources. Lewis occasionally speaks Tuscarora, explains enrollment and sovereign tribal governments to his friends. Horrible legacy of Native American boarding schools is discussed, as is how Native Americans continue to receive unfair treatment because of racist stereotyping. Setting is 1970s, so "Indian" is used rather than terms such as "Indigenous" and "Native American." Mental health is highlighted in arcs of two characters who struggle with employment. Economic diversity is a plot point: Lewis' lower-income home shows the level of poverty that some people on reservations experience. All main characters are men, but Lewis' mom and George's girlfriend are also important in the story. White and Indigenous people are the only racial groups represented. All romantic relationships are between men and women.
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Violence & Scariness
Lewis is physically and mentally bullied by a White classmate because he's Native American and lives on the Tuscarora reservation. The boy frequently beats Lewis up, and adults overlook it because the boy bullying him is part of an influential family. Other Indigenous people are physically and verbally threatened. White classmates treat Lewis poorly because they see his cultural behaviors as rude and uncool.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lewis' Uncle Albert, with whom Lewis shares a room, hangs pictures of "totally naked" women on his wall; Albert also has an adult magazine collection. Lewis admits that he's looked through the collection, and his friend George shows interest in similar magazines and TV content. When George begins dating Stacey, he briefly talks about kissing and making out.
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Lewis calls the boy bullying him an "a--hole," and the word is repeated a few times. The term "cripple" is said, and some disrespectful and outdated language is used to describe Indigenous people.
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Products & Purchases
Mentions Wacky Packages (parody trading cards and stickers that were popular in the '70s) and Smurf figurines.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults who abuse alcohol are mentioned. Lewis tries alcohol with a friend but doesn't get drunk. A character mentions that his older siblings smoke pot.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that If I Ever Get Out of Here is about Lewis Blake, a Native American Tuscarora-enrolled teen who lives on the Tuscarora Nation Reservation in the 1970s. Lewis is often ostracized by White classmates at his off-reservation public school. As the story starts, he's in seventh grade and befriends George, a new student from a military family who likes the same music and doesn't have the same prejudices about Native Americans that many locals do. At school, Lewis is bullied and beaten up because of his race and cultural traditions, and adults, including teachers, ignore it, don't believe him when he reports it, and look down on him for taking a stand. By talking about the horrible legacy of boarding schools for Native American children, the under-resourced and underserved Tuscarora reservation, and continued acts of disrespect toward Indigenous people, Lewis is able to create closer friendships and community ties. There's some experimental teen drinking and underage driving.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
In IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE, it's 1975, and seventh grader Lewis Blake, who's Tuscarora-enrolled, is the only Native American student in the gifted classes of his mostly White public school. He longs to have a friend, but school relationships have nuances that are different from the teasing and joking he's grown up with on the Tuscarora reservation. When a new boy from the military base turns out to have similar musical tastes to Lewis, the two slowly make their way to friendship. Although the boys share information about their different upbringings and traditions, Lewis is reluctant to disclose his family's lower-income situation. When Lewis is bullied by a White classmate whose father has a lot of clout, Lewis gets little support from teachers, administrators, or his classmates, forcing both Lewis and George to take a stand. Their final friendship hurdle is about being honest with each other and trusting that their connection is stronger than distance or economic difference.
Is It Any Good?
Lewis' struggle to fit into White-dominant spaces away from his reservation home while remaining connected to his family and culture is realistic and relatable. In If I Ever Get Out of Here, Lewis is a likable narrator who develops strong bonds with friends over shared musical tastes while also navigating significant racism and income obstacles. The extensive and minute details about 1970s music culture may confuse or bore some readers, and much of the plot and characterization is exposed through some fairly awkward dialogue, especially in the beginning. Still, if readers can stick with the first half of this novel, they'll be rewarded in the second half, when the plot gets going and Lewis starts to resolve his problems.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about racism and prejudice against Indigenous people depicted in If I Ever Get Out of Here, including the history of boarding schools and the unique relationship between sovereign tribal nations and North American governments. Do you think much has changed since the 1970s? What things have remained the same?
How is your music listening experience different from Lewis'? Do all your friends listen to the same music on the radio, or do you find new music from other places?
Have you ever heard of or listened to the bands mentioned in If I Ever Get Out of Here? Are the Beatles, Paul McCartney and Wings, Queen, and David Bowie still relevant to teens today?
The word "Indian" is used frequently because of the book's 1970s setting, but "Native American," "Native," and "Indigenous" are common today. Why is it important to use terms that people self-identify as?
- Author: Eric Gansworth
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Middle School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
- Publication date: July 30, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: July 12, 2017
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