Junior was born with “water on the brain,” an excess of spinal fluid which caused brain damage and physical problems, including having an abnormally large head, occasional seizures, and very poor eyesight. Despite these disadvantages and the poor treatment he receives from many of the other kids on the Reservation, however, Junior has a witty sense of humor and great talent at expressing himself through his cartoon drawings. He is also very intelligent and frustrated by the inferior education he receives in the poverty of the Rez. When he has the opportunity to attend a school off the reservation, Junior suddenly finds himself in an unfamiliar environment where everyone else is white. As he struggles to fit in with his new classmates and make peace with the traditions, pressures, and familial dysfunction he faces on the Reservation, Junior comes to a better understanding of his own identity and the new potential he sees in his future.
Alexie’s novel is a perfect balance of comedy and tragedy. Based on his own experiences growing up on an Indian Reservation, he paints an harsh and unapologetic portrait of teenage life amid poverty, alcoholism, and racism. But it is the narrator’s endearing and sarcastic sense of humor that makes the novel irresistible. I highly recommend this book to teens and to adults!
There is an audio book read by the author; the story is enhanced by Alexie’s great performance, but also somewhat lacking, since the cartoons illustrations which appear throughout the novel cannot be experienced in the audio format.