Summary of “Valentine Heart”:
A few days after Valentine’s day, Junior finds out that Eugene has been killed in a bar fight with his friend Bobby. The rumor is that the two fought over a bottle of wine, and Bobby shot Eugene in the face to get the last drop. Bobby doesn't even remember firing the gun but feels extremely guilty once he sobers up. He hangs himself in his prison cell.
Because of all the deaths in his family, Junior misses many days of school. He draws a cartoon depicting all the reasons that he has missed school, including funerals, a lack of gas money, and his mother refusing to let him leave because she is scared to be alone. One day, Mrs. Jeremy, one of Junior’s teachers, makes an ignorant and snide comment in class about Junior’s woeful attendance record. Junior is too afraid to stand up to Mrs. Jeremy, but Gordy drops his textbook on the floor as a sign of protest. Penelope and the rest of Junior’s classmates follow suit. They all walk out on Mrs. Jeremy, and Junior is happy to have people in his life who want to stand up for him.
Summary of “Like a Lion”:
Junior is getting better at basketball and becomes quite a star at Reardan. He is the first Indian player to be on Reardan's varsity team, so he attracts attention from the local media. One reporter hassles Junior for an interview before Reardan's rematch against Wellpinit, so Junior comes clean with his feelings: he has something to prove to himself, to his teammates, and to his former classmates from Wellpinit - and he cannot wait to slaughter Rowdy on the court.
Coach starts Junior and assigns him to guard Rowdy. Rowdy immediately tries to dunk, but Junior steals the ball and dribbles it all the way across the court, then makes a three-pointer. This glorious moment has the Reardan supporters in tears and sets the tone for the rest of the game. Reardan wins by forty points, and Junior guards Rowdy so well that he only scores four points. As Junior is celebrating with his team, he looks at the Wellpinit players and suddenly feels ashamed for being so brutal. He realizes that while most of his teammates have cars, homes, and bright futures, some of the Wellpinit players probably didn't eat breakfast that morning, some suffer the pain of living with alcoholic parents, and not one of them will ever go to college. This realization hits Junior hard, and he weeps in the locker room.
Summary of “Rowdy and I Have a Serious Discussion about Basketball”:
Junior and Rowdy exchange a few emails. Junior apologizes for beating Rowdy, but Rowdy responds that he will beat Junior the following year. They banter back and forth like they used to, and Junior is pleased that Rowdy is being friendly towards him once again.
Summary of “Because Russian Guys are Not Always Geniuses”:
Junior describes how alcoholism has affected his life, even though he has never been drunk before. He has attended 42 funerals, he explains, and most of the deaths are somehow related to alcohol. Despite the suffering his family has already endured, that winter they receive the most painful news of all. Mary has died. While she and her husband were passed out drunk, a fire started and burned their trailer to the ground, trapping the newlyweds inside. Junior’s family is grief-stricken. Junior runs away from Mary's funeral and into the woods, where he runs into Rowdy - who is crying.
Summary of “My Freshman Year Report Card”:
This is not technically a chapter. It is Junior’s drawing of his report card. He has gotten mostly As during his freshman year at Reardan.
Summary of “Remembering”:
Junior and his parents visit the cemetery to maintain the graves of those they have lost in the past year: Grandmother Spirit, Eugene, and Mary. The weight of these deaths hangs over Junior heavily, as he knows that many of his fellow tribe members will also die from alcohol-related deaths. He finds solace in the fact that by attending Reardan, he is doing his best to escape that fate. He is proud of Mary for chasing her dream like he did. Still, Junior feels guilty about leaving the reservation and Rowdy behind. He wishes they could become friends again.
Summary of “Talking About Turtles”:
Junior reminisces about the time when he and Rowdy visited Turtle Lake. After a day of swimming, they climbed to the top of a high pine tree and admired the view. Junior is amazed that he survived the climb to the top of the tree, just as he is shocked that he has made it through his first year at Reardan.
Rowdy knocks on Junior’s door and says that the only reason he has come over is because he is bored. Junior tries to convince Rowdy to transfer to Reardan. Rowdy rejects Junior’s suggestions. He knows that he will live and die on the reservation, but he refers to Junior as “nomadic” (229). He makes Junior promise to send him postcards when he travels the world. The two boys then go outside and play one-on-one basketball for hours. They don't keep score.
Junior’s abstinence from alcohol as well as his year at Reardan allows him to see the conditions on the reservation more clearly than others. He cites the number of alcohol-related deaths he has seen so far in his life and compares that number to how many funerals his white friends have attended, usually one or two. In this way, Junior's year at Reardan has given him perspective on the breadth of the alcohol problem on the reservation, but it also distances him from his Reardan classmates. They support him and stand up for him, but only Rowdy can truly understand Junior's pain, because he feels it too. This is why Junior never gives up on reestablishing his friendship with Rowdy, even after he feels accepted at Reardan.
However, Junior's aspirations and broadened horizons also come with increased feelings of responsibility. While his Reardan classmates are celebrating their victory over Wellpinit, only Junior knows that several members of the losing team likely did not eat breakfast that day. Others have abusive parents, and one has a father who is a meth dealer. In this moment, Junior's worlds collide and he feels forced to take a side. He feels like a traitor to his reservation by playing for Wellpinit, but he knows that he can never spend his life there, especially after attaining the hopes and dreams he previously thought were only reserved for white kids.
While “My Freshman Year Report Card” is not a true written chapter, its drawn contents give an idea of the type of education Junior receives at Reardan as compared to his school at Wellpinit. On the reservation, Junior was forced to study from a 30-year-old textbook and his teachers sometimes didn't show up for class. At Reardan, however, Junior takes classes in all the basic subjects as well as computer programming and wood shop. This is the sad reality of Junior's position: the Indian schools simply do not have the resources to give their students access to the professional skills that will give them further advantages later in life.
Junior wistfully remembers the time when he and Rowdy scaled a giant tree at Turtle Lake. He shares some local mythology about Turtle Lake, which reveals his pride in his culture and his feelings of solidarity with people on the reservation. He then describes the afternoon when he and Rowdy scaled a giant pine tree overlooking Turtle Lake, remembering, "I was scared, terrified... but it was also fun, you know?" (226). This anecdote symbolizes how much Junior relies on Rowdy's support when he is taking risks. He misses having a companion who understands where he comes from and supports him as he continues on his journey through life.
Finally, Rowdy returns to Junior's front door. He is finally able to overcome the distance that has grown between them. Even though this final scene shows how Junior feels as though he is a part of his tribe once more, it also becomes clear that everyone in Wellpinit, including Rowdy, can see that Junior will not stay there. Rowdy, however, contextualizes Junior's aspirations within the Indian tradition: he is a nomad like their ancestors were before settlers trapped them on reservations and stripped away their hope. By making this comparison, Rowdy shows Junior that he can be an Indian and be successful, as long as he remembers where he comes from.