Book World: ‘If I Ever Get Out of Here’ addresses race from young-adult view


By Eric Gansworth

(Arthur A. Levine) - ‘If I Ever Get Out of Here’ by Eric Gansworth

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Arthur Levine/Scholastic. $17.99. Age 12 and up.

Middle school is lonely for Lewis Blake, the one Native American in the “brainiacs” class. That changes, though, in the fall of 1975, when a new seventh-grader, George Haddonfield, seeks him out. The boys bond over the music of the Beatles, and Paul McCartney and Wings, but Lewis, ashamed of being a “Welfare Indian,” deflects George’s questions about his life on the Tuscarora reservation. In this funny, poignant young-adult debut, Eric Gansworth, the author of acclaimed fiction and poetry for adults, and a member of the Onondaga Nation, depicts the friendship that develops as each boy begins to open his world to the other. Lewis is a wry, observant narrator, reflecting on George’s neat pajamas and tidy military home even as he grows to better appreciate the communal, cluttered reservation. When the school ignores a bigot’s attacks on Lewis, the two friends take matters into their own hands — with each confronting the bully (and the larger culture’s racism) in a very different way. References to the tunes of the era ground the story in historical time and enhance the characters of key adults: George’s father, an Air Force officer, and Lewis’s uncle Albert, a drifty Vietnam vet. By sharing their love of rock music, these complex, kind men often guide the boys, who are just beginning to listen to the “tougher, truer chords” of adulthood.

— Mary Quattlebaum

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