Why is Junior more likely to leave the reservation than Rowdy?
Junior's family is more supportive than Rowdy's. They knew how important Junior's future is to him, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to help him achieve that dream. Rowdy's father, though, beats him regularly. He is not interested in Rowdy's future. Because of the abuse he suffers at home, Rowdy does not have the same hopeful attitude that Junior does; he has only ever been able to channel his energy into violence.
What finally prompts Penelope to become friends with Junior? How can Junior relate to her in a way that nobody else does?
Junior overhears Penelope throwing up in the bathroom. When she tries to boast about her eating disorder, Junior sees a parallel to the way his own father jokes about his alcoholism. Unlike many of the other Reardan kids, Junior knows a lot about addiction and self-harm because he has seen it firsthand. This connection is ultimately ironic - Penelope initially rejects Junior because he is from the reservation; yet it is his unique experiences from growing up on the reservation that eventually forge a bond between them.
What is the significance of Mary's nickname? How does the meaning evolve throughout the novel?
At first, Junior calls his sister "Mary Runs Away" because she is so "crazy and random" (28). After high school, where she was a promising student with aspirations to become a novelist, Mary "ran away" from life and retreated to her parents' basement. For several years after graduating, Mary spends 23 hours a day in the basement. However, Mary is inspired to change her life once Junior transfers to Reardan. She then runs away from the reservation altogether by marrying a man she barely knows and relocating to Montana. Therefore, "Mary Runs Away" transforms from a girl who is afraid of chasing her dreams to a girl who is willing to leave everything behind in order to pursue her true happiness.
Why is basketball so important to Junior and Rowdy?
Basketball plays an important role in both Junior and Rowdy's lives. For Junior, basketball (and his coach) gives him hope and improves his self-esteem after he transfers to Reardan. At first, he feels completely alienated from his new classmates, but he gains their respect with his determination and focus on the basketball court. On the reservation, Rowdy is the basketball star; it the only arena in which he excels. Throughout the novel, Rowdy and Junior communicate through basketball, especially because Rowdy has trouble talking about his feelings. Some of the most significant moments in their friendship occur on the basketball court; Rowdy expresses his frustration about Junior's transfer to Reardan by knocking him out during the game between their schools. At the end of the novel, Alexie uses a (non-competitive) one-on-one basketball game between the two boys to symbolize the renewal of their friendship.
Why does Rowdy criticize Junior for falling in love with Penelope? Do you think he is valid in his criticism? Why or why not?
Rowdy accuses Junior of being like all the other "Indian guys who treat white women like bowling trophies" (115). Later, Junior's friend Gordy (who is white) comments that by portraying "beautiful white girls" as "damsels in distress," the media reinforces the idea that white women are superior to women of color, which he believes Junior has internalized. Both Gordy and Rowdy criticize Junior for idolizing Penelope because of the color of her skin; they think that his feelings for Penelope are based on the concept of her rather than who she is as a person. Junior's initial descriptions of Penelope in the early days of his crush seem to support his friends' assessment: he watches her as if she is "a work of art," describing her "white shirt and white shorts... [and] her white bra and white panties." He emphasizes that she is "all white on white on white, like the most perfect kind of vanilla dessert cake you've ever seen" (115).
How does Junior's friendship with Gordy differ from his relationship with Rowdy?
Rowdy's friendship is based on protection and understanding; it is the one constant in Junior's life. Rowdy and Junior know each other better than anyone else knows them. They have grown up together and they come from the same world. Junior knows that Rowdy loves him even when he is bullying him, he understands that Rowdy's abusive home life has left him unable to express himself and that he often resorts to violence in emotional moments. Unlike Junior's friends at Reardan, Rowdy also understands what it's like to grow up on the reservation. He understands Junior's losses and his triumphs because he shares them. Meanwhile, Junior's relationship with Gordy is much more academic and straightforward. They start hanging out by studying together, and Gordy eventually takes Junior under his wing. They bond because they are both outcasts, the only two members of their tribe.
What does Billionaire Ted represent, and why do none of the Indians take him seriously?
Billionaire Ted is a comedic character, an archetypal white man who appropriates Indian culture. His introduction into the novel gives Junior the chance to comment on what he thinks about "white people [who] show up on Indian reservations every year and start telling Indians how much they love them" (162). He calls this phenomenon "sickening" and "boring." Indeed, Ted treats the mourners at Grandmother Spirit's funeral as if they were collectibles in a museum, reducing their culture to the arrowheads and blankets hanging on the walls of his mansion. However, the interaction between Billionaire Ted and Junior's mother is representative of the fact that even though white settlers shoved Indians onto reservations and stripped away everything they once had, their culture and tribal unity is unshakeable. Just like Junior's race and poor background make him an outsider at Reardan, Ted's elevated social status and racial background mean that he will never truly know "everything" about Indians, no matter how many billions he has in the bank.
According to Junior, what is the "worst part" about being poor?
Junior believes the worst part about being poor is that poverty kills hope. He claims that hunger is not that bad, because "sooner or later, my parents will come bursting through the door with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken" (8). However, he goes on to describe how it feels to believe that you deserve to be poor. "You start beliving that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian" (13). It's an "ugly circle," he observes cynically, a life in which his father has to kill his sick dog because they cannot afford a veterinary visit. Ironically, the lack of hope that Junior cites as the "worst thing about being poor" does not actually cost any money.
Why does Junior cry after leading the Reardan team to victory over Wellpinit?
The first time that Reardan plays Wellpinit, the Wellpinit supporters turn their backs on Junior and Rowdy clobbers him so hard he ends up in the hospital. This experience fills him with anger and vengeance, so during the rematch, Junior plays as aggressively as he can. When Reardan is celebrating their victory, though, Junior looks at the disappointed Wellpinit players, realizing that a few of them probably haven't eaten breakfast, some of them have alcoholic parents, and that none of them will go to college. He suddenly feels ashamed for being so focused on vengeance; he feels selfish for acting out of pain and anger. This moment is an important turning point for Junior - he starts figuring out how to belong in both places. He is still rooted in his culture even though he goes to Reardan and plans to leave the reservation.
What is Junior's stance on alcohol? What shapes it over the course of the novel?
Junior mentions alcohol for the first time in the second chapter of the book, when he describes going to a powwow where "the Indians who aren't dancers and singers... are most likely going to get drunk and beat the shit out of any available losers" (17). Both of his parents drink, his father often disappears on drunken binges. All of the deaths that take place over the course of the novel are connected to alcohol; even Grandmother Spirit, who never drank, was hit by a drunk driver. After his sister dies, Junior tries to "hang onto the good and sober moments tightly," but he can't help but cry. "I was crying for my tribe," he explains, "I was crying because I knew five or ten or fifteen more Spokane would die during the next year, and that most of them would die because of booze" (216). At the beginning of the novel, Junior is afraid of drunk bullies beating him up, but by the end of the novel, he has much more perspective; he can see how much his community is hurting.