Summary of “Reindeer Games”:
Junior tries out for the Reardan basketball team after his father encourages him to dream big. The tryouts are difficult, as only 24 students will be picked to join. Junior initially does not think he will make it, especially after he sees his burly opponents. Then, Coach pits Junior against Roger in a game of one-on-one. Junior tries his hardest to score against Roger, but Roger is too large and swift. Junior won't give up and begins to play like a football player. He barrels past Roger and successfully makes a shot. Coach admires Junior’s tenacity as well as his jump shot, so he gives Junior a spot on the varsity team.
However, Reardan will be playing Wellpinit in the first game of the season. As the Reardan bus approaches the reservation school, the Indians throw rocks at Junior and everyone turns their backs on him as he enters the gym, except for Rowdy, who faces Junior head-on. Junior is nervous because he knows that Rowdy is the reservation’s star player and is looking at Junior like he wants to kill him. As the players warm up on the court, someone in the crowd flicks a coin at Junior and hits him in the head. He starts bleeding profusely and has to sit out the first half of the game. Eugene, a former paramedic, gives Junior stitches so he can return to the game for the second half.
During the second half of the game, Junior courageously returns to the court, but Rowdy knocks him unconscious. While Junior is in an ambulance on his way to the hospital, Reardan loses the game and a fight breaks out. Junior wakes up to see Coach sitting by his bedside. Coach praises Junior's determination and sits awake with him all night talking.
Summary of “And a Partridge in a Pear Tree”:
Over Christmas break, Junior’s father disappears to go get drunk. There is no money and there are no presents. Junior is heartbroken. When his father returns from his drunken spree, however, he surprises Junior with a five dollar bill, which he has kept inside his boot to prevent him from spending it on alcohol. Junior is proud of his father for showing restraint, but he is also upset about his father’s absence.
Summary of “Red Versus White”:
Junior disputes the claim that he loves white people. He points out problems he has observed in white families, describing how parents (especially fathers) are often absent from their children’s lives. Even though he loves his Reardan friends, Junior understands that there are still good things about growing up on the reservation. Junior says that the best thing about the reservation is his grandmother. She is a tolerant individual, he explains, which comes the fact that she has retained her old-school Indian values. Years ago, Indians used to be tolerant of homosexuality and the mentally ill, for example. However, the influence of Christianity and western values has caused Indians to lose this accepting spirit. Junior’s grandmother, though, is different. At least she was - Junior reveals that she recently passed away after being hit by a drunk driver. Nevertheless, Grandmother Spirit's last request was for her family to forgive the man who killed her. Her death has been extremely difficult for Junior. He ponders the cruel irony that Grandmother Spirit was one of the few Indians he knew who had never taken a drink and yet she was killed by a drunk driver.
Summary of “Wake”:
Grandmother Spirit's funeral is held at the high school football field, which is the only space on the reservation that can hold the 2,000 plus Indians who come to pay their respects to her. Junior is happy that his grandmother is receiving such an inspiring celebration. Meanwhile, the Indians on the reservation have stopped bullying him so that he can grieve in peace.
While many people get up and speak about how amazing Grandmother Spirit was, one person stands out from the rest. Junior refers to him as Billionaire Ted, a white man wearing expensive stereotypical Indian clothes and collectable costume paraphernalia from the film Dances With Wolves. Ted gives a speech about how he bought a beautiful beaded powwow dance outfit from a swindler years ago, but felt guilty about purchasing in such a shady manner. Therefore, he spent thousands of dollars to find out who the gown belonged to, and his search led him to a Spokane woman named Grandmother Spirit. After struggling with the decision of whether or not to return the gown, he eventually decided to bring it back to its rightful owner. However, Billionaire Ted is shocked to discover that at the very moment he has decided to return the gown, Grandmother Spirit has passed away. During Billionaire Ted's condescending, pompous, and cliched speech, Junior makes sarcastic comments in his mind.
As a show of good faith, Billionaire Ted asks Junior’s mother to accept the gown in her mother’s place. However, Junior’s mother announces that even though her mother attended hundreds of powwows, she was never a powwow dancer and that the bead pattern on the gown is from a different tribe. Billionaire Ted takes his gown and walks away, embarrassed. Junior is happy when the whole crowd laughs at Billionaire Ted’s expense. For a moment, it lessens the blow of losing his beloved grandmother.
In these chapters, it becomes clear that all of the hardship Junior has suffered has made him a determined young man who fights for every opportunity. Junior's perseverance is what draws Coach to him in the first place. Despite being smaller and less skilled than Roger, Junior does not give up during their one-on-one match and even manages to score a point with a free throw. Besides his shooting skills, Coach sees Junior's spirit as an excellent addition to the team, admiring his determination to go on even after being knocked unconscious by Rowdy, his former best friend. Junior is becoming more confident in his place at Reardan because of the support system he is acquiring.
When Reardan's basketball team plays Wellpinit in the first game of the season, Junior's two worlds collide in a physical and violent way. Junior has found a place for himself at his new school, yet the people on the reservation single him out as a traitor. In fact, their hatred of Junior unites the reservation - every single person in the gym turns his or her back on their former friend. Junior, however, remains highly spirited and laughs; his entire team laughs with him. In this scene, Junior displays the leadership skills and courage that he has learned from struggling through life. He refuses to succumb to bullying, which is perplexing to people like Rowdy - who seems to follow the crowd.
Junior takes a break from his narrative to address the allegation that he "loves white people." While he has gained a lot from his new peers at Reardan, he also realizes that they have problems. He points out the strength of the community and the family unit on the reservation, finding it absurd that he has never met many of his Reardan friends' parents. Despite the fact that he is frequently bullied and tormented on the reservation, Junior holds certain aspects of his culture dear, most of all his grandmother. Her death is a tragic result of the rampant alcoholism on the reservation, but the subsequent celebration of Grandmother Spirit's life affirms Junior's faith. For one, the Indians stop tormenting him, realizing that he is suffering enough. Secondly, Grandmother Spirit had touched people far and wide, drawing nearly 2,000 individuals to her funeral - including a misinformed billionaire who unwittingly brings some humor into a tragic situation.
While Junior’s anecdote about Billionaire Ted functions to unite the mourners in laughter, it also serves to show that many white people idolize and create stereotypes about Indian culture. Billionaire Ted intends thinks he is making a respectful speech, but it is filled with interjections of self-importance that show the Indians attending the funeral attendance that he is not there to celebrate their culture but instead sees this experience as part of his collection of expensive Indian artifacts.
Even then, Billionaire Ted's flashy clothes and inaccurate knowledge about the powwow dress show that he does not actually care about the people whose culture he is commodifying. When describing Ted's outfit, Junior even alludes to the 1989 film Dances With Wolves, which is infamous within Indian communities for its inaccurate and stereotypical “Noble Savage” portrayal of the Lakota Indians. Billionaire Ted's racism is different than the comments Junior endures when he first attends Reardan, but it is racism all the same; Billionaire Ted may not even realize it, but he believes that he is better than the Indians and by "celebrating" their culture, he is doing them a great service.