The Round House

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Round House Book Poster Image
Complex adult book explores rape survival, reservation life.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

The Round House explains laws governing Native American reservations and how jurisdiction over crimes committed on or near a reservation is determined. In addition, this novel explores issues concerning rape and survival and white prejudice against Native Americans. Readers also will get a general idea of what it was like to live on a reservation in the 1970s and 1980s and the essential parts that Christianity and Native American culture play in reservation life.

Positive messages

Families find ways to survive, even when they think they can't.

Positive role models & representations

Joe's dad is a devoted husband and father, and he teaches Joe how to approach problems thoughtfully and systematically. Father Travis has a bit of a temper, but he cares about Joe's suffering and wants to help him understand why evil and free will exist.


This novel includes a rape and two murders. The rapist also brutally beats women and threatens to set them on fire. The husband of a raped woman beats her attacker. Another man hits his girlfriend, and teens learn that their local priest shoots gophers.


A teen boy ogles his uncle's girlfriend's breasts. Teens find used condoms; they talk about sex and then each masturbates alone. An elderly woman and man make lewd jokes and recall sexual experiences. A teen boy tells his friends that he had sex with his girlfriend. A young woman does a sexual strip tease in front of an old man and a teen.


Teens and adults use profanity and sexual language, including: "s--t," "bulls--t," "dick," "cock," "p---y," "twat," "f--k," "piss," "balls," "ass," and "damn."


Brands include Birkenstock, Crush, Coke, Shasta, and Hamm's, Michelob, and Blatz beer.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Adults and teens smoke cigarettes, and teen boys smoke a joint. Adults and teens also drink beer and whiskey. Teens get drunk and vomit or sleep it off; they also drink while driving.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Louise Erdrich's The Round House won the National Book Award for fiction in 2012. It's a rich, complex, and breathtaking novel with a teen narrator but adult content, as it deeply explores rape survival -- for both the victim and her family. The plot also digs into legal and cultural obstacles Native Americans face. The story is narrated by 13-year-old Joe, whose coming-of-age challenges are magnified by other painful experiences. Parents of teen readers should be advised that The Round House includes rape and murder, violent beatings, and violence against women. There's also prejudice against Native Americans and plenty of profanity (including "s--t," "bulls--t," "dick," "cock," "p---y," "twat," and "f--k") and talk about sex. Teens in the book think about sex a lot; they masturbate, and one teen boy has sex with his girlfriend. There's also a disturbing scene in which a young woman does a very sexual strip tease for an old man and a teenager. Teens and adults smoke cigarettes and consume alcohol to excess -- including drinking and driving -- and teens smoke a joint in one scene. 

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What's the story?

Louise Erdrich's National Book Award-winning novel THE ROUND HOUSE is narrated by Joe, a 13-year-old Native American boy who lives on a reservation in North Dakota during the 1980s. At the beginning of the novel, Joe's mom is briefly missing, and it's discovered that she has been sexually assaulted. Joe begins the summer before high school in a kind of limbo as his family tries to survive what has happened, feeling they can't move forward until they find and punish the attacker. As he navigates the treacherous road to recovery, Joe's surrounded by close family and the friends/partners in crime who always have his back.

Is it any good?

It’s a complex, rewarding book that's part coming-of-age novel and part mystery, wherein every event is affected by the cultural and legal divide between the reservation and the white world outside. Joe's pain and inner struggle are portrayed with sensitivity and realism and with the critical distance that comes with time, as we know he has reached adulthood before telling the story. His mother's attack is agonizing but increasingly meaningful to "observe" as all the plot points and issues unfold.

Erdrich's award-winning novel is a breathtaking page-turner, deeply layered with emotion and real-life legal and cultural divisions affecting Native Americans.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the treatment of Native Americans in The Round House. How would this story be different if the rape victim had been white?

  • What message does this book send about justice? What would you have done in Joe's place?

  • If you liked The Round House, check out Louise Erdrich's series of young adult novels, beginning with The Birchbark House.

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For kids who love coming-of-age stories and novels about Native Americans

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