If I Ever Get Out of Here

by Eric Gansworth

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Last Updated April 19, 2024.

Introduction

Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here (2013) is a coming-of-age novel about the friendship between Lewis Blake, a sensitive, lonely Native American middle-school kid, and George Haddonfield, a new classmate, the son of a retired Air Force officer.

Set in the 1970s and reflecting the author’s own experiences growing up in the Tuscarora Nation in western New York state, the novel explores the poverty and indignities Native families faced. Lewis, however, learns the value of his cultural identity and the gift of a friendship that transcends cultural boundaries.

Summary

It is 1975. Preparing to begin middle school, Lewis Blake cuts off the long braid he has long worn to fit in with the white kids. Lewis, a member of the Tuscarora Nation, lives on the reservation outside town with his mother, who cleans houses, and his uncle, a Vietnam veteran. His father left years earlier. Lewis is embarrassed by his family and his impoverished lifestyle. 

The new school year brings a new kid, George Haddonfield, the son of a retired Air Force officer. George tells Lewis that because of his father’s career, he has lived all over the world. During chorus, they find they share a love of the Beatles. Lewis is unsure how to react to George’s friendship after years of humiliation and bullying by white kids. George assures Lewis that, as a military kid, he knows what being an outsider is like.

Lewis does not want George to see where he lives. Visiting George at the military housing development stuns Lewis. George’s spacious home is beautifully furnished. But what most engages Lewis is the record collection. George’s father is also a Beatles fan. When Lewis leaves, the father lends Lewis his copy of Band on the Run, an album by Paul McCartney’s new band, Wings.

On Christmas, Lewis’ uncle gives him the newest Wings album, Venus and Mars Are Alright Tonight. Listening to it, Lewis decides he and George are from two different worlds, just like those two planets.

On New Year’s Eve, Lewis heads to George’s. After the parents depart, the friends sample cherry schnapps, watch cable porn, and listen to records. Before they fall asleep, George tells Lewis his father spent time on a Native reservation in Minnesota and learned much about Native culture.

In the spring, Lewis signs up for a minimum-wage summer job program. As the school year ends, Lewis is confronted by Evan Reiniger, a racist bully. Evan strikes Lewis with a stick just outside school. Teachers do nothing because the Reiniger family contributes money to the school.

One day, George suggests they camp at Lewis’ house to watch Venus and Mars align. Lewis declines, saying his mother has a thing about white people in her home.

Lewis starts his summer job. What little he makes goes to helping out at home. However, he invites George to attend the reservation’s summer picnic.

School starts in the fall. Because of budget cuts, the chorus is smaller, and Lewis is scheduled for music class instead. In class, Lewis cringes when the teacher makes much of his Native identity, suggesting he would have an affinity for drums.

After class, Evan jumps Lewis and punches him. “Pounding don’t take a minute if you’re good.”

The harassment continues. The music teacher suggests Lewis write a note to the assistant principal, which backfires. The assistant principal makes Lewis read the note to Evan in his office. Evan denies everything and blames the “Indian” kid. Evan is cleared. After the meeting, Evan punches Lewis. Lewis leaves school determined never to return.

For three days, he stays home. His uncle is sympathetic but knows Lewis...

(This entire section contains 998 words.)

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must return or face suspension. He advises Lewis to stand up to Evan.

Lewis heads to the school, grabbing a baseball bat on his way in. A guidance counselor, however, intercepts Lewis and tells him that Evan jumped a white kid and was transferred to another school.

When Lewis returns home, his uncle gives him a leather jacket he once wore as a member of the reservation’s lacrosse team. When Lewis arrives at the school, however, the assistant principal commandeers the jacket until after school to ensure Lewis stays for the entire school day.

On Christmas, Lewis is overjoyed to receive a guitar from his mother. She used the money Lewis earned over the summer.

In February, a blizzard buries the town. George’s father picks up the boys from school, but the car is stopped by a highway patrol roadblock. They cannot get to George’s home. As the storm nears, they pull into a convenience store.

Among the stranded travelers are Evan Reiniger and his father. George tells Lewis that he was the white kid Evan attacked, that he provoked Evan in hopes that Evan would do something stupid. When Evan swings at Lewis, George’s father, steps in. Intimidated, Evan and his father back down.  

The storm worsens. The only hope is to get to Lewis’ home on the reservation.

Lewis realizes George will now see his “scandalously broken” home. When they arrive, Lewis’ mother and uncle welcome everyone. Lewis cringes as George takes in the house, the slop bucket in the corner, the broken furniture, the water stains along the wall, and, worst of all, the partially collapsed kitchen ceiling from a snowstorm two years earlier. But it does not matter to George.

The storm lasts six days. During that time, the families work together to keep the house safe. They talk and play records and take turns strumming Lewis’ guitar. When the storm is over, however, George tells Lewis his father has been reassigned to Texas, and they must move.

When it comes time for George to depart, the two friends hug.

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Analysis