Throughout the course of the novel, Junior learns numerous lessons about identity, family, and friends. The plot concerns Junior’s transfer from a school on the American Indian reservation where he lives to a white-majority school in town more than twenty miles away. His understanding of his Native American identity changes as he matures as an adolescent. In only one year, Junior loses several family members. Although his grandmother’s death saddens him, he can accept it because of her age. However, his sister and her husband also die when their house burns down. Because the accident occurred when party-goers at their home overindulged in alcohol, his grief is much greater. He learns about grief and about the effects of substance dependency.
At the new school, he accommodates to the greater academic demands. Perhaps more importantly, he makes new friends and falls in love with a popular white girl. However, his oldest friendship is strained when Rowdy accuses him of selling out. Through participation in sports, Junior learns a way to fit in to the new environment and forges a path to renew his bond with Rowdy.