A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this National Book Award winner presents a powerful look at the life of Native Americans on reservation, and the struggles one teen faces in an effort to escape. There is some gritty material including swearing, racism, homophobia, references to masturbation, erections -- and alcoholism is a major theme. Teens get in a number of fistfights and three people close to the main character die. Yet teen readers will get a lot from Junior's story: his sincere and sardonic voice is expressed not only in his writing but in his comics about his life, family, and friends. This device contributes a lightness to even the darkest moments, and allows Junior's anger and wit to come shining through.
What's the story?
Junior has more than his fair share of burdens. He was born hydrocephalic, and he lives on an Indian reservation where there is little hope or money, but plenty of alcoholics, including his parents. His sister hardly ever comes out of the basement. He gets beaten up a lot for looking weird. But he has a few things going for him too. He's smart, good at drawing and basketball, and, unlike his friends and relatives, he has ambition and hope. But when he decides to reach for more by going to a white school 22 miles away, his burdens grow even greater.
Is it any good?
What sounds in summary like a tale of unremitting woe is, in the hands of Sherman Alexie and illustrator Ellen Forney, powerfully moving and grimly witty. Junior's sincere and sardonic voice is expressed not only in his writing, but also in his comics about his life, family, and friends. This device contributes a lightness to even the darkest moments, and allows Junior's anger and wit to come shining through.
The hopelessness of life on the rez is almost inconceivable to those who don't live it, and Junior is determined and relentless in his quest to succeed and escape. This is not about coming to terms with the richness of one's culture. Though Junior has tremendous affection for his family, home, and tribe, he knows, and his parents know, that his only chance of a decent life is to claw his way out. In a book with many sad moments, that may be the saddest thing of all.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the awards this book has won. Did you know that it was National Book Award winner? Why do you think it won that award? If you take a look at the list of other award winners, are there others that you would like to read? What books would you nominate for this prize?
Also, did you know that the author based this book on his own life story? Does that surprise you? Does that change anything for you? Why do you think this is a young adult book, rather than a children's book or a book for adults?
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