1. Is dark young adult fiction harmful or beneficial for readers?
2. Alexie starts the book by describing the disabilities Junior suffered because he was born with hydrocephalism. How does he respond to these problems? Is he bitter? Amused? What role do his physical weaknesses play in the novel? Is overcoming his physical disabilities the point of the story? Can we learn anything from the way Junior deals with his illness and disability?
3. Junior comments on the fact that there are many different ways that people choose to deal with pain and problems. How does Junior deal with his pain and problems?
4. Why does Junior draw cartoons? How does it help him live his life? Does he ever show the drawings to anyone? Does he use the drawings to communicate with others, or just to help him visualize his own thoughts?
5. Does Junior identify himself primarily as a Native American? In what ways does he accept certain Native American stereotypes? In what ways does he reject them? How is the stereotype of the “stoic Indian” supported or dis-confirmed by Alexie’s portrayal of Junior’s father? Are there other places in the book that disrupt this (or other) stereotypes?
6. How does Junior feel about life on the reservation? Is Junior angry and bitter? Is he able to keep a sense of humor about things, or he is simply depressed? Discuss how Junior conveys the poverty and hopelessness that exists on the reservation. Have you ever had to suffer because your family was too poor to do anything else (like the death of Junior’s dog)?
7. How does the author deal with the problem of alcohol use among Native Americans? Why do you think there are problems with drinking for many Native Americans? What are the consequences of alcohol dependency and abuse? What behaviors generally reflect how people living on the reservations feel about themselves, their lives and futures? How does Junior respond to life on the reservation? How does he feel about his future?
8. What aspects of reservation and family life does Junior like?
9. Discuss Junior’s relationship with his father. In what ways has Junior’s father disappointed him. Discuss the ways Junior’s father supports him. How does Junior deal with his family disappointments? Discuss Junior’s relationship with his mother. How is that relationship similar to and different from his relationship with his father.
10. When Junior’s father calls him a warrior for going to Reardon, “It was the best thing he could have said.” What do Native Americans in this book mean when they call one another “warrior”? What words or phrases do you use to convey similar meanings? What would be the “best thing” someone could say to you in a scary or challenging situation?
11. Why was Junior upset to see his mother’s name in his textbook? Junior’s teacher told him to leave the reservation, a piece of advice he acted upon and that changed his life. Do you think an experience like that can really have such an effect? Have you ever had someone believe in you and suggest you change the direction you were going in your life? Did you take the advice and make the change? If this hasn’t happened to you, do you wish it would?
12. Junior’s decision to go to school off the reservation was unusual. Why do you think that was? It made his best friend, Rowdy, furious. Why do you think that happened? Have you ever made a change in your life that caused friends to abandon you? Have you ever failed to make a change that you wanted because you were afraid friends would abandon you? Why are these decisions so difficult?
13. Why are “the rules” so important to Junior. Were there unspoken rules at Reardon?
14. When Junior started school, he was completely ignored by the other students. Why do you think that was? Have you ever been in a place where everyone ignores you? How did that feel? If it changed, was there anything particular that caused it to change? Have you ever seen another person ignored like that? Why are some people treated this way?
15. Things change for Junior when he seeks out Gordy, the smartest person in the class. Did he need to have courage to do that? Why is reaching out to others difficult? Have you ever reached out to make contact with someone like that? Have you ever wanted to reach out, but were too embarrassed or frightened to do so? What difference did it make?
16. When Junior played the basketball game against the reservation team so well that they won, why didn’t he feel pure joy? Have you ever “won” something that actually made you feel bad, instead of good?
17. At the end, Junior asked his old friend, Rowdy, to leave the reservation, but he just brushed aside the suggestion. They played one-on-one basketball, without keeping score. What was the value of that game? Why didn’t they keep score?
18. Junior left the reservation in search of a dream. He felt a stranger in a “white” world and may always have to work to overcome people’s thoughts and actions because they think he is different or “other.” In what ways is his experience the same or different from that of immigrants to this country?