Tuesday, August 6, 2013

If I Ever Get Out Of Here (review)


4/5 stars

When I first started If I Ever Get Out of Here (Goodreads | Amazon) I immediately wanted to compare it to Sherman Alexie's amazing The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian.  Which is absolutely terrible of me.  If I Ever Get Out of Here is a good book in it's own right. It doesn't need to be compared to Alexie's work.  There is room for more than one YA book about the American Indian experience growing up on a reservation.

First I want to address the similarities because I know everyone's curious. Yes the books have a few things in common. The main characters are students of above-average intelligence that are surrounded by white classmates who don't always understand them.  They're poor and live on a reservations.  That's pretty much it.  Let's not talk about how many white YA main characters are written as smart misunderstood kids because I'm pretty sure that's a commonality among most heroes and heroines.  As for the rest, I think that's just a realistic portrayal of the American Indian experience. (Being white and from Kentucky it's hard to actually know that though).

So now that I've gotten that out of the way let's talk about the book (And FYI that was not to criticize anyone else. That was 100% to criticize the way I originally approached reading this book). Lewis is a poor boy, like pretty much everyone on the rez, but unlike all of his Indian friends he was placed in a higher level class by the guidance counselor.  Intelligence-wise, Lewis belongs in that class but socially he has trouble fitting in.  He doesn't have the money to buy nice clothes, doesn't know how to dress and doesn't hang out where all of the white kids do.

When Lewis finds out there's going to be a new kid in his class he hopes for another Indian.  What he gets instead is George, a military brat  who's just moved to rural New York from Guam.  Against the odds, George and Lewis become best friends.  They're both big fans of the Beatles, Wings and Queen.  Even though they are friends, it's painfully obvious at times that they don't understand each other's lives.

While on one-hand this book is about growing up on a reservation, it's also about growing up in poverty.  To me that's where this book really struck a chord.  After seeing George's nice clean house, Lewis's makes up lie after lie to avoid inviting George to his home.  It's not because he doesn't like George or doesn't trust him.  It's because he's ashamed.  Lewis lives with his single-mother and disabled uncle and it's hard to keep the house clean and pay the bills.  His house is falling apart and he doesn't want George to see how he really lives.  Reading the sections about poverty and Lewis's shame was painful, but in absolutely the best way because those sections rang heartbreakingly true.

This book deals with friendship realistically, with all it's embarrassments, pitfalls and awkward moments but also how friends overcome obstacles, arguments and ultimately forgive.  In some ways this book is very sad and bittersweet, but mostly because it chooses to be realistic.  And I like that.  It doesn't beat around the bush or give you a neatly-wrapped-box ending.  Instead it just tells you a story, gives you a window into someone else's life experience and hopefully increases your understanding and empathy because of it.

I received an advance reading e-book in exchange for an honest review.  

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