Wednesday 5 August 2015

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:
It’s September 1975 and Lewis is about to start his second year of junior high. As the only Indian kid from his reservation who made it into the top stream, his first year was lonely, to say the least, and he has no great expectation that this year will be any better.

But then he meets George, who is almost as lonely as he is. In many ways, the two are opposites. George, the son of a military officer, rarely gets to stay in one place long enough to make friends. Lewis expects to spend the rest of his life on the reservation. But somehow a shared love of music draws them together.

For a few months, Lewis’s life takes a turn for the better. Then he stumbles across the path of Ewan, school bully and Indian hater. What follows will put an even greater pressure on Lewis and George’s friendship. It will take the blizzard of the century to finally bring their families together and break down the last barriers between the boys.

Gansworth’s portrait of a boy on edge of puberty is one any teenager could relate to. But he also gives a revealing glimpse of life ‘on the res’ – from the joyous (the Summer Picnic and the ‘Nu Yah’ celebrations) to the grim (Lewis’s decaying home, with its outdoor latrine and no running water).

Lewis is from the Tuscarora tribe*, part of the Iroquois Six Nations, living in northern New York State. The tribe, originally from North Carolina, was driven north in the 18th Century, when their land was taken from them and their numbers depleted by disease. As Lewis explains, their culture was further eroded in his grandparents’ generation, when children were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools where they were physically abused and forbidden to speak their language or practice traditional customs. All this has left a legacy of almost equal parts pride, suffering and mistrust.

If I Ever Get Out of Here is about negotiating friendship and trust from across a chasm of cultural differences, from the subtleties of telephone etiquette to the logistics of using a two-hole privy in sub-zero temperatures. It also brims over with a love of music – especially the Beatles, Wings and Queen.

With Canada and the US finally facing up to the legacy of the residential school system through Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, this book has a contemporary resonance, despite the forty year old setting.

(*You can read more about Gansworth’s background here. )

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, My Name is not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Avoid if you don’t like: Teenage heroes, school bullies

Ideal accompaniments: Indian corn soup with home-made bread

Genre: Young Adult

Available from Amazon

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