Plot: Junior was born with, as he puts it, too much water in the brain. This made him different physically and prone to seizures. The other kids picked on him but he was content as long as he had his best friend and he could express himself through his comics. He dreams of becoming a comic artist. But he’s afraid that if he stays on the reservation, he’ll grow up poor and without hope like his parents, like most of his neighbours. So he decides to go to school with the white kids. He faces scorn from both inside and outside the reservation and all the difficulties of being poor. But he refuses to give up hope.
The format, combining novel and comics with a very dark wit, works very well. It reminds me of the insanely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid though this one doesn’t seem to get as much popular recognition. The humour in the book is sometimes crude and a little infantile, but Junior is a 14 year old boy and it fits (and it made me laugh anyways). The artist, Ellen Forney, had a rare gift for getting into Junior’s head. Despite the light tone, overall, this is a surprisingly deep story about reservation life. This is not simply about the good Indians and the bad white people (or vis versa), the problems have grown far more complex. Junior sees the poverty, the alcoholism, the racism and most of all the loss of hope and dares to hope for something better in the face of great adversity and loss. The ending, for me, felt a little anti-climatic but the journey there was both funny and heart-breaking.