It’s clear why this gutsy book is a National Book Award Winner but I don’t agree with it being used in elementary school. I don’t think students that young will be able to see past the vulgarity, etc. to the true message. Even thought it is based on the true experiences of children that age, the topics are deep, difficult, and disturbing.
Told through the viewpoint of Junior, an adolescent on the Spokane Indian reserve, it vividly brings home the despair of growing up in poverty, surrounded by a sense of hopelessness. He is a victim of racism but is also bullied by his own people. Junior refuses to play the hand dealt him. In spite of being shunned by everyone on the reservation, Junior decides to attend a white school which provides the students with up-to-date materials and better opportunities. This isn’t as simple as switching buses. Junior has to find ways to travel the 22 miles to attend.
Using a mixture of humor and stark accounts of personal tragedy, Sherman portrays a realistic and admirable young man fighting for his future. He doesn’t sugarcoat the violence and alcoholism rampant on the reservation but subtly helps the reader to understand its roots. While the reader may not approve of much of the behavior exhibited in this book, they would have to have a heart of stone not to leave it with a heightened sense of empathy and compassion for the plight of First Nations young people.
I did find the content too mature for 10-year-olds and would not recommend this for anyone below high school age.