I’m not going to review the book too deeply, in anticipation of our discussion. These are just some thoughts I had.
I had no idea that Sherman Alexie wrote the screenplay for Smoke Signals. if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you do. If you enjoyed this book, I couldn’t recommend that movie enough. It has a similar tone, and touches on some of the same themes.
Stylistically, this book could’ve been written by Stephen King. Maybe that’s a weird comparison to make, but it has the same easy, conversational tone. The comfortable friendships that feel as though they’ve grown organically around the small town activities can only be described by those who has experienced them. Whether we’re talking about rural Maine, or the Spokane Reservation in eastern Washington, the respective worlds inhabited by both authors are centered around a rich tapestry of fully realized characters who are both interesting and familiar. It wouldn’t at all be strange to read about these kids setting out on a journey to find a rumored dead body. Or to return to their hometown after being away for 30 years so that they may do battle with an ancient, evil presence.
But that’s not what happens here. And it isn’t to the detriment of the story that Junior comes to understand his life’s progression through a game of basketball rather than some kind of supernatural confrontation.
Sherman Alexie is a superb writer, and he drew on his own experiences to tell this story. It shows. Junior’s budding romance with Penelope, his contentious yet devotional friendship with Rowdy, his being torn between his natural and sedentary life on the rez and his chosen and nomadic life among white people has the ring of truth that can only come from a life earnestly experienced.
I had almost no thoughts about this book prior to its section for the Book Club, apart from bewilderment at the controversy over its having been banned numerous times by various libraries. Now that I’ve read it, I can understand why it’s been banned, but I’m also deeply saddened that it’s happened.
It’s natural to want to protect children from the darker truths of our world, but the banning of books doesn’t protect children from harsh reality. To read is to inhabit the life of another person. Reading brings with it an ability to understand and empathize with others. It is my dearest wish that my son doesn’t have to experience the hardships of those Junior does, here. But to deny him the chance to develop empathy and an appreciation of what other human beings go through is unconscionable. That’s what censorship does. And this book seems like a prime example for the kind of book that should be read by young adults, and it would no doubt spark interesting and important conversations.
We just need to have the courage to allow that to happen.
This has been reviewed 9 times, with an average rating of 4.33 stars.