Lewis Blake deals with heady issues of family, friendship, identity, and belonging in this candid and humorous story about life as a teenage Tuscarora Indian in 1975.
Recommended grade level: 6-9
Pages: 368 (for ISBN 9780545417303)
Themes: interracial friendship, self-discovery, being a marginalized minority, staying within the bounds of home and society versus exploring outside society, embarrassment about home and family, fitting in, finding meaning in art, moving on
Summary: What do you do when you’re American Indian, so nobody in your class talks to you, dirt poor like snow-blowing-through-the-roof poor, small for your age so bullies like Evan Reiniger make you their punching bag, and a Beatles fan, meaning your favorite band broke up years ago? Well, you make friends like George Haddonfield, a new kid in town, tell lies because what George doesn’t know about your house won’t hurt him. Tell truths, ’cause someone’s going to listen to you about Evan, right? And make your own music since in the end your friends and family are all you have. (Source)
Who will like this book?: This is a great choice for realistic fiction and humor fans. It doesn’t read much like historical fiction, which could be a draw to certain kids forced to read historical fiction for school assignments. Music lovers, especially Beatles fans, will eat this up. Those interested in Native Americans and minority authors and characters will also enjoy this book. Readers struggling with identity, feelings of otherness, and finding friendship will likely relate to Lewis. This is one of those books that has wide appeal but isn’t likely to be picked up by a reader on her/his own, so spread the word!
Who won’t like this book?: Though Lewis’ life is eventful, the drama often comes from understated sources, so readers craving a flashy sort of action should look elsewhere. Readers who aren’t interested in internal struggles or musings probably will not enjoy this book.
Other comments: This book is exceptionally candid. It will likely speak to minority readers and has the potential to make white readers question themselves in the very best way. Lewis’s flaws and struggles make him easy to empathize with no matter what the reader’s background. In keeping with its candidness, there is some mature content: moderate swearing; viewing of pornographic magazines and a TV show featuring a topless woman (though these are not described and are viewed more with fascination than lust); a character has a girlfriend with whom he does some kissing and touching, and says they have also graduated to more “fun” stuff; there is a vague reference to erections). None of the mature content goes beyond what a typical middle schooler might experience. This is an important book that sheds light on injustice and segregation (both self-imposed and imposed by situation and society) without sugarcoating, yet it is also affirming and hopeful.
Readalikes: For older readers, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie has a similar humorous tone juxtaposed with big ideas about being a young Native American interacting with white people, particularly in a school setting. Readers interested in the boarding schools mentioned in the book should try My Name is Not Easy by Debbie Dahl Edwardson. Joseph Bruchac has authored many middle school-age titles about Native American experiences. On a different note, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt takes place a decade earlier and is about white characters, but it’s similar as a humorous mid-century story about a boy growing up.