Genre: Contemporary YA
Content warnings: violence, alcoholism, child abuse
Zits is a foster kid. He’s been bounced around to more shitty foster homes than he can count, and at fifteen he’s just about had enough.
Running away for good, he crosses paths with a charming homeless kid named Justice. Justice is his savior–he shows Zits how to survive on the streets, and he has the most amazing stories. He’s well read, self educated, and knows just what to say to keep Zits hanging on to his every word.
It doesn’t take long for him to convince his new follower that the world is a terrible place full of terrible people, and action must be taken.
Zits decides it’s his mission to commit this act of violence, but before he does, something mysterious happens and he finds himself falling backward through time, experiencing life as a civil rights-era cop, a child on a reservation, and even his own father. Through all of it, he wonders: How can you tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys when they both say the same things?
I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. It was, for the most part, a 2-3 star read for me, but the ending was beautiful and heartwarming, and made me bump it up to 4 stars, though I’ve been waffling on that since.
Zits is half Native American. He’s been through hell and doesn’t have the best people skills. He’s been abused. He drinks, he smokes, and he could care less about authority.
But I am not the one to say if this is positive or even accurate representation. I’m not a foster kid. I’m not Native. I can tell you that this book made me very uncomfortable, for reasons I can’t quite articulate. Part of it was the fact that Zits wanted to commit an act of terrorism. Justice has the charm of a serpent and could easily become a cult leader one day. But the feeling goes deeper than that.
Since reading this book, I’ve been informed that Sherman Alexie is perhaps not the best person to represent Native populations in fiction. I’ve heard from some Native people on Twitter that he has caused a lot of harm to the community. I don’t know the details of this, but it is something to consider and after reading this book I can certainly see why it would be harmful to the Native American community at large.
So, with all that in mind, I have lowered my rating back to my initial gut feeling of 2 stars. If you’re looking for Native American rep in fiction, maybe pick another author.