Chapters 1-7 Summary and Analysis
The narrator, a fourteen-year-old Spokane Indian born with a birth defect that left him with a variety of physical disabilities, introduces himself as an individual who has had to overcome challenges from the the first day of his life. In addition to speech impediments and a proneness to seizures, the narrator suffered with ten extra teeth and impaired vision. Indian Health Service was supposed to help with these latter issues, but under its rules, major dental work was funded only once a year, and all ten teeth had to be removed at once with a minimum of anesthesia, since the white dentist believed that Indians "only felt half as much pain as white people did." As for eyeglasses, the narrator was able to get only "ugly, thick, black plastic ones," which make him look "all lopsided." Because of his physical deficiencies, the narrator is the object of much ridicule and bullying on the reservation where he lives, so he spends most of his free time hanging out alone in his room, reading books and drawing cartoons. He likes cartooning because "when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it," and because he feels that developing this talent "might be (his) only real chance to escape the reservation."
Poverty characterizes the existence of the narrator, who is called "Junior" by the people on the "rez." Hunger, though it is a reality, is not the worst part of being poor; the worst part is not having enough money to take his beloved dog Oscar to the vet when he gets sick. Junior describes his impotent rage when his father gets his rifle and puts Oscar out of his misery because, in contrast to veterinary care, "a bullet only costs about two cents." Junior realizes, though, that he cannot blame his parents for their situation; he understands that they too once had dreams, but never had the chance to be anything because reservation Indians do not get a chance to realize their dreams. They are "just poor," and have been poor so long that they believe they deserve nothing better.
Depressed and angry about the death of Oscar, Junior turns to his "best human friend," Rowdy, "the toughest kid on the rez." Although Junior's parents are "a drunk and a former drunk" who sometimes ignore or yell at him, Rowdy's father "drink(s) hard and throw(s) hard punches," and Rowdy and his mother frequently sport "bruised and bloody faces" because of his abuse. As a result, Rowdy, who has protected Junior since the day they were born, spends a lot of time at Junior's house. On Labor Day weekend, Rowdy convinces Junior to accompany him to the annual powwow celebration, and Junior runs into the Andruss brothers, who beat him up. When Rowdy discovers what has happened, he exacts revenge on Junior's behalf, waiting until the brothers are in a drunken sleep in their tent, and sneaking in to shave their eyebrows and cut off their braids. Junior loves that Rowdy sticks up for him, but he also loves the sweeter side of Rowdy that no one else knows about. Rowdy likes comic books and is "a big, goofy dreamer, too," just like Junior.
Junior is excited about learning when he starts high school, unlike his sister, who "just froze" after she graduated, and spends her days in the basement, doing nothing. Rowdy and Junior plan to go out for basketball together, even though Rowdy is a great player while Junior is only mediocre. Junior is a little worried that Rowdy will start to hang out with the older boys and leave him behind, but on the whole, he is more excited than scared about high school, and is especially looking forward to taking geometry.
The geometry teacher at Wellpinit High School is Mr. P, a forgetful, "weird-looking dude" whom students generally like because "he doesn't ask too much of (them)." When Mr. P passes out geometry books on the first day of school, Junior opens his up and is shocked to see his own mother's name written on the inside front cover. Realizing that the reservation school is still giving students the same books their...
(The entire section is 1,670 words.)