Arnold Spirit, or Junior as he prefers to be known, is a Native American teenager living on a reservation. He is skinny, wears glasses, and has a chequered medical history which includes having water on the brain as an infant. He is beaten up on a regular basis because he is considered too different, sometimes by people twice his age. He accepts this as the normal way of things on the “rez” and is very matter-of-fact as he tells the reader about it. This makes the abuse even more disturbing and confronting to read.
Junior, does, however, possess a well-developed sense of humour and loves to draw cartoons to help him make sense of his life and the world. These cartoons are part of the novel. Things start to change (and not necessarily for the better) when Junior starts at the rich white school off the rez, about 22 miles away. Junior endures what many kids the same age could not – countless beatings, alcoholic parents, a lack of food, exhausting walks to and from school when there is not enough pertol money to drive him, and the deaths of friends and family around him. What shines through constantly is his spirit. This book is sometimes hard to read, but it is worth sticking with it to the end because it ends on a note of hope.