I know I specifically mentioned in the about section of this blog that Read the World Project would not be focussed on reviewing books by American or English authors and I’m not departing from that sentiment all together. I still don’t intend to review many books by authors from these countries, however, I do want to review at least one book from each unique country I read from this year. As such I figured that if I was going to review a book by an American author I might as well review a book by a Native American author. If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth is just that.
Eric Gansworth grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in Upstate New York and is a member of the Onondaga Nation. This book is set in the seventies and follows a young boy, Lewis, who is growing up on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation and who, like Gansworth, is a member of the Onondaga Nation. Lewis attends school off of his Reservation, where the Native American children are mixed in with the white children who live in the area. Lewis is highly intelligent and has been placed in the top class in his grade where every other student is white. He is excluded and ignored by his classmates until one day a new boy moves to the area and he and Lewis bond over a shared love of the Beatles and of music in general. Lewis isn’t used to white kids being nice to him and while he likes George and comes to value their friendship, he doesn’t want George to find out how poor his family is. This book focuses on the boys’ friendship and the way in which Lewis finds himself pulled between two worlds and two identities.
This book was hugely educational. Being Irish my knowledge of Native American culture and issues is minimal. In fact, prior to this the only book I’d read by a Native American was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie who is part of a different Nation to Eric Gansworth. Naturally, there was some crossover between the two books but I still learnt a lot during my reading experience. For example there is a big focus on the effect of residential schools on Native Americans and the way in which it has shaped their cultural identity. This made me think about the way in which the experience of a prior generation can have a huge impact on future generations. This is something explored in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and is something which I see in my own country to a lesser extent in relation to the Great Famine.
There were also multiple different illustrations of prejudice and discrimination against Native Americans throughout the book, from the school bully who targeted Native Americans to teachers who treated to Lewis badly because of the fact that he was Native. We also got to see the way in which Native children had less opportunities. Lewis was the only Native kid in the top class in his grade. Native children were, in general, far poorer than their white counterparts and many of them were forced to work part time from a young age. This book not only educated me but reminded me of just how privileged I am.
Another aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was the friendship between Lewis and George. They both come from very different worlds and very different experiences and while they don’t necessarily always understand each other and while they do sometimes hurt each other, their relationship is really cute. It’s symbiotic; each of them grow and develop as people because of it. I definitely got invested in their friendship so naturally a certain plot twist late enough in the book broke my heart a little. Also, we don’t get enough friendships in YA so I was really happy about how Gansworth chose to make friendship, as opposed to some tween relationship, the primary focus of the book. Frankly, it felt more natural considering the characters are rather young for YA (they’re still in middle school) and I think it provided a better platform for exploring Native issues and the divide between the Native and white communities.
The one thing I struggled with in this book however was the writing style. I can’t quite put my finger on what was so weird about it but it was just very off-putting. The narration is first person which I’m generally okay with but somehow Gansworth managed to make me feel like I was being held at arm’s length while also telling the story from the first person point of view. It wasn’t that the book used a dialect or anything, there was just something didn’t work for me. I’ve taken two weeks away from this book in the hope that I’d be able to determine what about the writing style left me dreading picking the book up in spite of the fact I was really enjoying the story. The best I’ve come up with, however, is that it was off-putting and simply was not the type of writing I enjoy. Not hugely informative or satisfactory coming from a book reviewer I know but that’s genuinely the best I can do!
Overall, great story, highly educational without being a massive info dump, unusual writing style but definitely worth a read.
Rating: 3.5 stars