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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 911

Author: Eric Gansworth

First published: 2013

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical fiction

Time of plot: 1970s

Locale: Niagara, New York

Principal Characters

Lewis Blake, a young Native American boy

Albert, Lewis's uncle, a Vietnam veteran

George Haddonfield, Lewis's white friend

The Story

Eric Gansworth's novel If I...

(The entire section contains 911 words.)

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Author: Eric Gansworth

First published: 2013

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical fiction

Time of plot: 1970s

Locale: Niagara, New York

Principal Characters

Lewis Blake, a young Native American boy

Albert, Lewis's uncle, a Vietnam veteran

George Haddonfield, Lewis's white friend

The Story

Eric Gansworth's novel If I Ever Get Out of Here is set in Niagara, New York, in the 1970s. Young Lewis Blake lives on the Tuscarora reservation, but goes to a junior high school located off the reservation. For a couple of years now, he has been the only Indian kid in his class. Two of his friends from the reservation, Carson and Marie, also attend the school, but they are in different grades. As the book begins, Lewis cuts off his long braid in an effort to fit in. Then a fortuitous turn of events occurs—a new boy named George Haddonfield, an Air Force brat, arrives. George reaches out to Lewis, befriending him.

Lewis is bewildered by the attention at first, but the two soon bond over their shared love of the Beatles, who just broke up, and Paul McCartney's new band, Wings. (Each chapter in the book is titled after a Beatles or post-Beatles Paul McCartney song.) Lewis also bonds with George's dad, another music fan. They swap records. The Haddonfields have lived in Germany and Guam. Lewis reckons that this worldliness makes them treat him better than most of the white people he knows. Still, there are cultural differences. Lewis spends most of the book trying to prevent George from seeing his crumbling house on the reservation, where he lives with his mother, who cleans houses for a pittance, and his uncle, Albert, a Vietnam veteran. Albert, who shares a room with Lewis, is Lewis's mentor.

Seemingly all of a sudden, George gets a girlfriend and the two friends drift apart. Lewis, with Albert's help, starts learning to play the guitar. Albert even helps fund Lewis's trip to Toronto, his first, with the Haddonfields to see a Wings concert. Due to complicated circumstances involving the racism of another friend, Lewis sits apart from the Haddonfields and George's girlfriend's friends. It is a metaphor for how Lewis feels every day, a feeling that he cannot quite communicate to George, however kind he is. As a thank you for the concert, Lewis invites George and his father to an Indian festival. He discovers that George's dad used to live on an Indian reservation.

Lewis worries that George's dad's family worked for the notoriously cruel boarding schools, but this turns out not to be the case. The uncertainty, however, demonstrates Lewis's deep-seated and rightful suspicion of white people. A new school year begins, and Lewis earns the unwanted attentions of the school bully, Evan. Evan's father gives the school lots of money and Evan and his brother takes advantage of that power. Evan hates Indians, and begins beating up on Lewis every day.

Teachers and the principal look the other way. They even blame Lewis, both for not defending himself and for getting into fights, suggesting that he cannot control his wild Indian nature. Lewis drops out of school, refusing to return until Evan is gone. A few weeks later, Evan is gone—but thanks to a fight with a white kid. That white kid turns out to be George, who picked a fight with the bully on Lewis's behalf. Lewis returns to school and the two become outcasts (briefly) together. George begins to understand the racism Lewis faces; he breaks up with his girlfriend because she does not understand. In the book's climax, a dangerous blizzard, George and his father are forced not only to see Lewis's home, but live there for several days. Lewis faces his shame, fully opening up to his friend, but just as quickly, George and his family move away.

Critical Evaluation

If I Ever Get Out of Here is adult author Gansworth's first young adult novel. Gansworth's other books include Mending Skins (2005), also set on the Tuscarora reservation, and Extra Indians (2010). Like Lewis, Gansworth grew up on the Tuscarora reservation. If I Ever Get Out of Here received moderately positive reviews when it was published in 2013. A reviewer for Kirkus called it "a worthy exploration of identity and friendship" and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that "readers will appreciate the teenager's sharp insights into being an outsider and Gansworth's intimate knowledge of the prejudices and injustices inherent to Lewis's life."

Indeed, Gansworth's vivid and complex illustration of rez life is the book's greatest strength. As the Publishers Weekly review noted, however, a lack of plot and unusually stilted dialogue mar an otherwise enjoyable novel. If I Ever Get Out of Here uses imagery from popular music to explore its themes. Gansworth describes Lewis and George's separate worlds as Venus and Mars, after the Wings album Venus and Mars (1975). Their theme song is the Beatles classic "Two of Us," a snapshot of a romance, but conceivably also friendship, caught in time. The author also uses McCartney's separation from the Beatles as a lens through which to view the ebb and flow of friendship and ultimately, as George must move away, loss.

Further Reading

  • Review of If I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth. Kirkus Reviews, 29 May 2013, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/eric-gansworth/if-i-ever-get-out-here/. Accessed 28 Mar. 2018.
  • Review of If I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth. Publishers Weekly, 1 July 2013, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-545-41730-3. Accessed 28 Mar. 2018.
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