Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Title: The Only Good Indians
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press
Publication date: July 14, 2020
Length: 310 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A tale of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Best friends Ricky, Lewis, Cassidy, and Gabe grew up together on a Blackfeet reservation. Then, in their 20s, they went their separate ways, after an even they refer to as the Thanksgiving Classic. One week before Thanksgiving, the friends went hunting in forbidden territory and illegally brought down many elk, before getting caught by the game warden and being forced to throw away all the meat they’d claimed as their prize.

Now, ten years later, strange events begin to occur. First, Ricky is killed in what the newspapers call a bar fight, but it’s much more involved than that. Next, Lewis appears to have a mental breakdown, in which he seems to be hallucinating visions of an elk in his living room and experiencing violent episodes that he may or may not be responsible for.

Up to this point, I wasn’t sure whether the characters were actually having supernatural experiences or if Lewis in particular was having some sort of psychotic break. But, it soon becomes clear that this is not all in their minds. Cassidy and Gabe are also soon the victim of a vengeful spirit coming back to punish the men for their part in slaughtering a vulnerable member of the herd.

The Only Good Indians is both a terrifying horror tale and a sad, straightforward look into the lives of Native Americans on their reservation as well as the lives of those who leave. (I can hear Gabe laughing right now — to him, “Native American” is an affectation of the younger generation. He considers himself Indian.)

It’s really questionable whether any of these men deserve what happens, and there are certainly some innocent victims as well — although to the elk spirit, I suppose none of the two-leggeds who hunt the herds are actually innocent. We get inside the spirit’s head as well as the main characters, and it’s all quite sad and disturbing.

One of the best characters in the book, in my opinion, is Gabe’s daughter Denorah, a middle school basketball star who takes over for the final section of the book, and is pretty astounding with her skill and courage.

I don’t feel like I’m capturing how powerful this book is, yet I don’t want to disclose too many details. The writing is evocative, sometime funny, and the characters are sharp, well-drawn, and memorable. Be warned that there are some very violent and gruesome aspects to the story, so if you shy away from books with blood and guts, this might not be a good choice for you.

Tammy at Books, Bones & Buffy wrote one of the best reviews of this book that I’ve seen, and I think she says it all better than I do! Check out her review (here), which is what convinced me that I needed to read this book.

I’m so glad my library hold finally came through! I’ll definitely want to read more by this talented author.

I never considered elk scary before… but I’ll never look at them the same way again.

For more, check out this NPR interview with the author:

Visit the author’s website at

Shelf Control #234: There There by Tommy Orange

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


Title: There There
Author: Tommy Orange
Published: 2018
Length: 294 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Tommy Orange’s wondrous and shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene, pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American–grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. Hailed as an instant classic, There There is at once poignant and unflinching, utterly contemporary and truly unforgettable. 

How and when I got it:

i found a brand-new copy of this book at a library thrift store about a year ago, and couldn’t resist!

Why I want to read it:

I read so many stellar reviews for this book when it was first released, and it’s either won or been nominated for some really prestigious literary awards. so it’s been on my radar for a while now.

I’m eager to read more Native American fiction, and the description of this book makes it sound really moving and very beautifully written.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Title: Race to the Sun
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Disney Book Group / Rick Riordan Presents
Publication date: January 14, 2020
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lately, seventh grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like that man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he’s Mr. Charles, her dad’s new boss at the oil and gas company, and he’s alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he’s a threat, but her father won’t believe her.

When Dad disappears the next day, leaving behind a message that says “Run!”, the siblings and Nizhoni’s best friend, Davery, are thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, all disguised as quirky characters. Their aid will come at a price: the kids must pass a series of trials in which it seems like nature itself is out to kill them. If Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery can reach the House of the Sun, they will be outfitted with what they need to defeat the ancient monsters Mr. Charles has unleashed. But it will take more than weapons for Nizhoni to become the hero she was destined to be . . .

Timeless themes such as the importance of family and respect for the land resonate in this funny, fast-paced, and exciting quest adventure set in the American Southwest. 

What fun! Race to the Sun is the middle grade children’s adventure novel that we absolutely needed!

Written by the talented Rebecca Roanhorse, Race to the Sun uses Navajo mythology in an epic quest full of danger and trials. Main characer Nizhoni, a 7th grader who wants to be special, finds herself able to sense monsters — a gift which becomes crucial when her father goes missing.

Accompanied by younger brother Mac and best friend Davery, these three tweens must navigate the American Southwest through landmarks both real and fantastical, facing down monsters and accepting assistance from legendary characters such as Spider Woman, Yellow Corn Girl, and the Sun himself.

Along the way, the children learn lessons about bravery, sacrifice, loyalty, and the importance of their roots and their connection to their people’s past.

(It’s also an understated but quite effective premise to have the bad guy being the head of an oil company that wants to exploit ancestral clan powers to help his frakking business!)

The adventure skips along quickly, with moments of scary breathlessness as well more humorous interludes and moments of sadness and loss. All are woven together into a quest story that never flags, throwing in unexpected twists and turns as well as moments of grace and insight.

Race to the Sun is part of Disney’s Rick Riordan Presents imprint, described on Rick Riordan’s website as:

Our goal is to publish great middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage. Over the years, I’ve gotten many questions from my fans about whether I might write about various world mythologies, but in most cases I knew I wasn’t the best person to write those books. Much better, I thought, to use my experience and my platform at Disney to put the spotlight on other great writers who are actually from those cultures and know the mythologies better than I do. Let them tell their own stories, and I would do whatever I could to help those books find a wide audience!

This is a fitting home for Race to the Sun, as I can see this book absolutely being a hit for kids who’ve read and loved the Percy Jackson books and are eager for more tales of heroes and legends and the ordinary kids who find hidden gifts inside themselves.

I also think it’s important that both Native and non-Native young readers have the opportunity to be exposed to mythologies beyond the Greek and Roman that are taught in school. Race to the Sun does this in an engaging, authentic way without ever making it feel like being force-fed something educational.

Highly recommended for middle grade readers and their parents, teachers, and anyone else who appreciates seeing well-written, engrossing stories with multicultural perspectives end up in the hands of excited readers!

Take A Peek Book Review: Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2) by Rebecca Roanhorse

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.


(via Goodreads)

It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.

Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.

Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

My Thoughts:

I loved Trail of Lightning, the first book in Rebecca Roanhorse’s The Sixth World series, and Storm of Locusts is an amazing follow-up! Picking up right from where book #1 left off, the story rejoins Maggie after the big fight at Black Mesa, where she battled a Navajo god and seemingly lost her only friend. Now, mere weeks later, she’s healing emotionally and physically, when she’s called on by a sometimes-ally to help with a bounty hunt that goes badly wrong. After the bloody incident, Maggie has a new responsibility, her ally’s niece Ben, a teen girl with clan powers of her own.

Immediately on the heels of this event comes news that Kai has been kidnapped, and Maggie is soon on the trail of a cult leader whose powers include the ability to summon and control hordes of locusts. Gross. And scary. Storm of Locusts ends up as a road trip/quest kind of book, as Maggie, Ben, and Rissa, sister of the boy kidnapped along with Kai, set out to track their missing friends and get vengeance on the White Locust. For the first time in these books, their search takes them outside the walls of Dinétah and into the greater world beyond the Navajo people’s protected lands, where corruption and extreme danger come in many forms, and where despite the strangeness of the new reality, the gods still have powers too.

I’m really adoring The Sixth World series, its characters, legends, and world-building, the mix of old traditions and a new post-apocalyptic landscape. Author Rebecca Roanhorse has a magical, masterful touch with her storytelling, creating a people and society that feel real and lived-in. Maggie is a terrific, layered, conflicted heroine, a total win as a lead character. I want much more of her story! The book ends with a final scene that makes it clear that Maggie’s troubles are far from over, which is fine with me — more trouble for Maggie means more excellent stories for us to enjoy.

Can’t wait for #3!


The details:

Title: Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World, #2)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: April 23, 2019
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Speculative/dystopian science fiction
Source: Purchased








Take A Peek Book Review: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.


(via Goodreads)

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

My Thoughts:

What a cool set-up! Sometime after the world we know is left mostly underwater and the United States is no more, survived by pockets of humanity living in rogue states, the Navajo nation is thriving within the magical walls erected before the flood by prescient elders. Within the walls, the Dinétah people live in a world where magic and gods have returned. And for some of the mortals, clan heritage has manifested with special powers and gifts — among these, Maggie Hoskie, whose speed and ability to kill have made her a powerful monster-slayer.

Maggie struggles with the emotional upheavals that have brought her to this point, and is joined by Kai, a former outsider who has secret clan powers of his own, to try to tame the evil that has brought monsters to the land. The story combines the grit and violence of urban fantasy with the natural beauty and starkness of the Dinétah land.

It’s a rich and fascinating world, although the world-building itself felt incomplete to me. While we’re introduced to Maggie and some of the elemental powers and gods, I felt that the story needed a bit more grounding and expansion. I always felt as if I was missing some tiny element that would push this book over the edge into full-on greatness for me. I would have liked to get to know Maggie more as a person, and the same is true for Kai.

Still, I loved the use of language and culture to paint a picture of the people, the land, and the magic. Trail of Lightning is the first book in a series, and I really can’t wait for more. I’m hoping the next book will give me the greater picture of this world that I’m dying for, so I can feel fully immersed.

As a side note, my city’s public libraries have chosen this book as the citywide “On the Same Page” book for January/February, which I think is all sorts of awesome. It’s really terrific to get a taste of fantasy fiction with a Native American heroine and cast of characters — really a unique set-up, and a world I want to know more about!


The details:

Title: Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: June 26, 2018
Length: 287 pages
Genre: Speculative/dystopian science fiction
Source: Library








Audiobook Review: Flight


Sherman Alexie is one of our most gifted and accomplished storytellers and a treasured writer of huge national stature. His first novel in ten years is the hilarious and tragic portrait of an orphaned Indian boy who travels back and forth through time in a charged search for his true identity. With powerful and swift, prose, Flight follows this troubled foster teenager–a boy who is not a “legal” Indian because he was never claimed by his father–as he learns that violence is not the answer.

The journey for Flight‘s young hero begins as he’s about to commit a massive act of violence. At the moment of decision, he finds himself shot back through time to resurface in the body of an FBI agent during the civil rights era, where he sees why “Hell is Red River, Idaho, in the 1970s.” Red River is only the first stop in an eye-opening trip through moments in American history. He will continue traveling back to inhabit the body of an Indian child during the battle at Little Bighorn and then ride with an Indian tracker in the nineteenth century before materializing as an airline pilot jetting through the skies today. During these furious travels through time, his refrain grows: “Who’s to judge?” and “I don’t understand humans.” When finally, blessedly, our young warrior comes to rest again in his own life, he is mightily transformed by all he has seen.

This is Sherman Alexie at his most brilliant–making us laugh while he’s breaking our hearts. Time Out has said that “Alexie, like his characters, is on a modern-day vision quest,” and in Flight he seeks nothing less than an understanding of why human beings hate. Flight is irrepressible, fearless, and groundbreaking Alexie.

Flight is a stunning, powerful look at seemingly unending cycles of violence, betrayal, and revenge.

Told through the voice of Zits, a 15-year-old half-Indian foster child who’s on the fast track toward a bloody end, Flight lets us inside the mind of a character who’s been neglected, abused, and repeatedly failed by the meager systems that are meant to protect him. When we first meet him, Zits is living in yet another foster home with people who don’t care a whit about him. He’s plagued by terrible skin, which is one of countless things that never get fixed for him because he’s just a kid in the system and no one wants to invest the time or money to improve his life. His favorite word is “whatever”, and it sums up his attitude completely. He’s done caring.

When Zits end up in juvie yet again, he meets a strange and magnetic white boy who calls himself Justice, who seems to understand Zits and his struggles in a way no one else ever has. Justice introduces Zits to guns and the means to take revenge for the years of his own miserable life, as well as all the many years of wrongs done to his people.

As Zits pulls the trigger in a heinous act of mass murder, he starts his journey through time and space, landing in the bodies of other people at critical times of violence. In some cases, he’s the one committing atrocities; at other times, he’s a victim. Through each episode, Zits is both witness and participant in acts of great violence, experiencing first-hand the destructive power of people’s quest for vengeance.

Listening to Flight is a particularly chilling experience. Narrator Adam Beach gives Zits an appropriately adolescent voice, yet is also able to shift — as Zits shifts — into an adult FBI agent, an Indian tracker, a downtrodden drunk, and a modern-day cop, each with a distinct personality and style of expression. The narrator’s portrayal of Zits’s increasingly despairing and horrified mindset is powerful. He captures the pain and suffering that Zits sees, as well as the pain of the recovered memories of Zits’s earlier life and the lives of others.

It’s a blessing, I suppose, that Flight is a relatively short book. It’s an intense experience, and doesn’t need to be distilled at all by lengthening the story. Even though the narrative is full of terrible events, Zits’s voice and unique perspective lends the audiobook rare moments of lightness as well. It’s not an easy book or listening experience, but Flight is well worth the emotional investment you’ll have made by the end.


The details:

Title: Flight
Author: Sherman Alexie
Narrator: Adam Beach
Publisher: Grove Atlantic Black Cat
Publication date: 2007
Audiobook length: 4 hours, 40 minutes
Printed book length: 208 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased


Book Review: If If Ever Get Out Of Here

Book Review: If If Ever Get Out Of Here by Eric Gansworth

If I Ever Get Out of HereIn If I Ever Get Out Of Here, main character Lewis Blake faces yet another lonely year as the only Native American kid in the all-white smart kids’ class at the local junior high school. As a rez kid in 1975 Buffalo, New York, Lewis knows that 7th grade will probably bring more of the same for him — sitting alone, talking to no one all day until he rides the school bus back to the Tuscarora reservation with the kids he grew up with. Much to his surprise, though, one of the new kids from the town military base doesn’t seem to care that they’re from different worlds, and the two boys soon strike up a friendship over their love of the Beatles and Paul McCartney.

But friendship only extends so far. George and his family welcome Lewis into their home and their lives, but Lewis just can’t quite bring himself to return the favor. Lewis lives with his mother and uncle on the reservation in a house that’s literally falling apart around them, and he’s sure that George would drop him in an instant if he ever got a real sense of just how poverty-stricken Lewis really is.

If I Ever Get Out Of Here is both a coming-of-age story and a portrait of Native American life. In it, the author vividly describes the challenges faced by the children of the reservation, who may attend the white schools but know that they’ll never really leave the rez. In this pre-PC world, outright racism is common in the local community, and when Lewis is targeted by a much-feared bully who’s known for his hatred of “Indians”, none of the adults are willing to intervene. It’s up to Lewis to take a stand, and his bravery leads to both triumph and betrayals as the repercussions are felt throughout the school and the town.

Above everything, If I Ever Get Out Of Here celebrates two universal forces for good: Sincere, unwavering friendship, and the power of rock and roll. George and Lewis are good kids with their heads on (mostly) straight, who understand the importance of family, and who’ve grown up in one form of isolation or another. They bond and connect with a sense of trust that moves beyond the barriers of race and economic class. What truly brings them together, however, is the music, and this book is saturated with the delight of discovering something new and true through the grooves of a vinyl album.

George and his father manage to find tickets to a Paul McCartney and Wings concert in Toronto (although Lewis has to endure the comment from a friend’s dad, “Hope you didn’t get scalped,” complete with hand gestures illustrating just what a scalping would look like). Yet once the concert starts, all the stresses of being the lone Indian among a sea of white people fade away, as Lewis observes the awesome glory of being in a crowd at the perfect rock concert:

The guy next to me grabbed me by the armpit and insisted that I stand on my seat. I was short enough that doing this didn’t make me much taller than anyone else, but I still crouched a little to even the view for the guy directly behind me. A minute or so later, that guy tapped me on the shoulder and yelled that I was fine standing. He was tall enough to see… The strangers around me made me one of them. It was almost like being home on the reservation, and I let myself enjoy the surging excitement.

The Beatles, Wings, Queen, Bowie — these form the soundtrack of the boys’ lives during their junior high school years (and provide the chapter titles in If I Ever Get Out Of Here), and the author thoughtfully provides us with a detailed, lovingly compiled playlist at the back of the book.

This young adult novel strikes me as appropriate perhaps for older middle-grade readers as well, although they may be less familiar with the historical elements that come to life here. In all the different facets of life facing Lewis, the settings ring true. The casual racism and cruelty experienced by Lewis may be shocking to young readers raised in today’s more aware society, but the fear and pain caused by bullying are certainly something that kids of any era would be able to relate to.

Written as a first-person narrative using straight-forward language, If I Ever Get Out Of Here lets us inside Lewis’s head and Lewis’s world, and both are fascinating places to be. As a visit back in time and to a world that most white Americans either can’t or don’t want to see, this book engages the reader’s heart and mind. Lewis is a terrific main character — not a perfect boy by any means, but an overall really good kid who is proud of his people but doesn’t want to be confined by old rules. If I Ever Get Out Of Here vividly captures the dichotomy experienced by the Native American youth who feel a deep sense of belonging within their communities on the reservation — but whose opportunities for better lives lie elsewhere.

I recommend this book for teens and adults alike. The people feel real, the dialogue and events capture the essence of the 1970s, and the music just makes it all come to life. Most of all, it’s a tribute to true friendship — the kind that’s loyal, steadfast, and lifelong — and the difference it can make in a lonely boy’s life.

Review copy courtesy of Scholastic via NetGalley. I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Flashback Friday: A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight. If you’d like to join in, here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

A Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris

(published 1987)

From Goodreads:

Michael Dorris has crafted a fierce saga of three generations of Indian women, beset by hardships and torn by angry secrets, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of kinship. Starting in the present day and moving backward, the novel is told in the voices of the three women: fifteen-year-old part-black Rayona; her American Indian mother, Christine, consumed by tenderness and resentment toward those she loves; and the fierce and mysterious Ida, mother and grandmother whose haunting secrets, betrayals, and dreams echo through the years, braiding together the strands of the shared past.

Telling one story through three sets of eyes, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water moves backward chronologically through the generations of a family to reveal their secrets, their hopes, their pain, and their disappointments. It’s a beautifully written tale, heavy at times but worth the emotional investment. Read it for the portrait of a family; read it for yet another painful lesson on the Native American experience and how its history echoes until today.

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!

Book Review: The Round House

Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Main character Joe is 13 years old the summer that his life changes forever. Joe is the devoted, mostly well-behaved son of two loving parents, growing up on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. His father is a judge in the tribal legal system; his mother works in the all-important tribal registry office, handling the complex web of rights and obligations that are tied into a person’s genealogy and ancestry.

At the start of that fateful summer in 1988, Joe’s mother is brutally attacked and raped. Joe’s secure home and safe world is turned upside down, as the hunt for the rapist and the quest for justice consume the family. Ultimately, however, it is the tangled mess of legalities stemming from early tribal treaties and the creation of the reservations that determines the outcome of the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrator. Different laws apply to different jurisdictions, and the case ends up resting on the question of where the attack took place. Was it reservation land? State land? Federal land? Unless the jurisdiction can be determined, there can be no legal process, and so even though the identity and whereabouts of the rapist are pretty quickly determined, it is not at all clear that the man can or will be tried for the crime.

Those are the bare bones of the plot. At a deeper level, The Round House is a meditation on so much more. Some of the most compelling aspects of this book include:

– The sense of family and community present among the people living on the reservation. Joe’s immediate family is small, but his extended family is huge. Everyone is a cousin or an in-law; everyone plays a role in the lives of others. The support and connection is palpable. There is no hiding here — wherever Joe goes, he is known and welcome.

– The depth of the friendships among the boys in this story. Joe’s friends are his brothers. They have adventures, they get up to mischief together — but they have each others’ backs and their bond is one of love and dedication. The relationships among these boys are quite lovely to read about.

– The outrage over the crime that was committed. I think we are all too used to the awful stigma that still attaches itself to rape survivors in our society, but that sense of shame is completely absent here. Joe’s mother suffers deeply, but her suffering is from fear of her attacker and what he may yet do, to her and to others. What is clear here is that Geraldine was the victim of a violent crime, and she is supported by her community without question and without stinting. The house overflows with casseroles; Joe is looked after by not just his aunt and uncle but by everyone. No one hesitates to ask Joe how his mother is or to offers words of kindness. It’s a refreshing attitude that condemns the attacker without in any way blaming or belittling the woman who was attacked.

– The linking of traditional beliefs to the modern occurences. The elders in the family are respected and honored. Joe’s centenarian grandfather tells tales of buffalo women and evil spirits, but these are not just ancient myths — various facets of the stories come into play in the search for justice for Geraldine.

– The reminder that what may seem to many as an unfortunate chapter in US history is still having an impact on real people’s lives to this day. The daily frustrations of living with the outcomes of the tribal treaties is a very real part of the characters’ experiences. An incredibly powerful scene takes place about 2/3 of the way into the book, as Joe asks his father why he bothers — why does he continue trying cases in the tribal courts when nothing seems to make a difference? In response, Joe’s father pulls an old, moldy casserole from the back of the fridge where it had been forgotten, dumps it onto the table, and then begins to pile utensils and kitchen implements on top of it:

That’s it, he said.

I must have looked scared. I was scared. His behavior was that of a madman.

That’s what, Dad? I carefully said. The way you’d address a person in delirium.

He rubbed his sparse gray whiskers.

That’s Indian Law.

I nodded and looked at the edifice of knives and silverware on top of the sagging casserole.

Okay, Dad.

He pointed to the bottom of the composition and lifted his eyebrows at me.

Uh, rotten decisions?

Joe’s father goes on to explain how he and his fellow judges, in case after case, are attempting to overcome the poor foundations of their legal system by creating strong decisions on top of these, hoping to some day create a stronger framework for laws that support their people’s lives. It’s a lovely scene, showing in few words both the depths of the problems facing the tribe and the strength of the connection between Joe and his father.

The plot of The Round House swirls around the traumatic events of that particular summer, but in many ways the story is a coming-of-age tale with the universal characteristics of a boy’s emergence into manhood. Through the attack and its aftermath, Joe for the first time sees his parents as vulnerable. He starts to realize that they have inner lives, fears and hopes, apart from him, and that they can’t always protect themselves or him from the harsher realities of life. Joe and his close friends are on the cusp of their teen years, developing sexually, exploring the boundaries of freedom, reveling in their small conquests and steps toward independence. Much of the climax of the story has to do with Joe, with the assistance of his friends, taking affirmative steps on his own toward what he feels must be done. Joe has gone from the protected child of the family to a young man who wants to be the protector, and while he may stumble along the way, it is this significant summer that propels him forward into the kind of man he will grow up to be.

It’s easy to see why The Round House won the National Book Award in 2012. This beautifully written, powerful story of family and friendship, crime and justice, tradition and history is filled with memorable, well-drawn characters, dramatic plotting, and moral conundrums. There’s a lot to think over, and I’m still mulling through the events and implications of the various plot turns.

The Round House is not light reading, but it’s certainly worthwhile. I recommend it highly, and look forward to exploring more of Louise Erdrich’s work.