Another shout out to Powell’s Daily Dose for alerting me to this YA novel about Lewis Blake, a middle-school boy growing up in the Tuscarora Reservation in upstate New York in the 1970’s. Like Junior in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Lewis moves between two different worlds—the mostly white world of his junior high, where he gets tracked into the “smart section” but he is the only reservation kid—and his home on the Tuscarora reservation—where he lives with his mom and Uncle Albert in a dilapidated house with no indoor plumbing.
After a disastrous sixth grade year, Lewis hopes that seventh grade will be different and his encounter with a new kid, George Haddonfield, on the first day seems to suggest that it will. Recently relocated to the local air force base, George and his parents have come from Guam and before that, Germany. George and Lewis connect over music, especially the Beatles and post-Beatles Paul McCartney, as well as a shared sense of humor. However, as their friendship develops, Lewis has to face the fact that they do live in two completely different worlds and he’s not ready to show George his. To add to this tension, a school bully has decided that Lewis is the perfect target and the bully’s personal connections go so high, there is nothing the school will do about it, especially because Lewis, no matter how academically gifted, is just another reservation kid.
This is not just a story of two worlds—one white and one Native American—it’s also a story of a particular time—one that I lived through with its 33 rpms, Wacky Packs, the 7-3 section of seventh grade and the blizzard of 1977. Gansworth recreates middle school hallways and elements of grinding poverty with a sure hand and a steady eye and both his and Lewis’s love of music shines through this heartbreaking yet curiously optimistic story.