Author: Louise Erdrich
Provided Synopsis: One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
Review: As is recounted years later, in the summer that the narrator, Joe, is thirteen years old, a horrific crime takes place. Joe’s mother is brutally raped and must summon the strength to flee for her life before her attacker can set her on fire. Once she arrives home in a state of shock her husband and son drive her to the hospital; from that point on their lives are understandably changed forever.
It is easy to see how this book is hailed as a coming-of-age novel. Joe is forced to make the quick transition from a child to an adult. Instead of being spoiled by his family he attempts to take an active role in the pursuit of justice for his mother. Since the family lives on an Indian reservation there are numerous laws which complicate the prosecuting of the attacker, namely the inability to determine if the crime happened on Indian or State land. In addition to that, Joe’s mother has retreated into herself and refuses to offer information that is pertinent to the case. Father and son are forced to work with the few clues they have and eventually pinpoint suspects. But what can they do without final pieces of evidence? What can they do when laws practically offer no justice for an Indian woman who has been raped?
With a group of his friends, Joe encounters numerous instances that will test and challenge his resolve. There are questions of spiritualism and Indian mythology in regards to justice. There is blossoming sexuality which is always at odds with what Joe has seen of rape. There is the final question of just how far people are willing to go to provide peace of mind for a loved one. All of these questions are explored through the eyes of a thirteen year old.
And while this book was a good read I still found myself feeling disconnected with it. The ending, in particular, felt rushed, and made me wonder if I had missed an overarching theme that would have tied the story together to make it all seem relevant.