When thirteen-year-old Joe’s mother Geraldine Coutts is brutally attacked one Sunday afternoon in June he does what any devoted son would do: sets out on a quest to uncover and punish her assailant with the encouragement and aid of his father Bazil, a tribal judge. Joe’s efforts, however, are complicated by his mother’s retreat into her bedroom and refusal to reveal any clues as to the nature of the horrendous crime, even to the son who carries her secret and the most important piece of evidence in the case. With the help of his crew Angus, Zack, and his best friend Cappy, Joe perseveres, revealing in his increasingly dangerous pursuit of the truth of what happened to his mother the very real and sordid history of crimes of whites against Indians and lack of any punishment afterward on reservations in the United States.
While overall horrifying and somber in theme and ending, this novel does contain humor and biting wit throughout. Erdrich expertly captures the fearless and free natures of teenage boys enjoying their summer off from school on an adventure in search of justice, yearning to be older than they are. Joe will become horribly aged by the end of it, although not without experiencing moments of sheer bliss only a thirteen-year-old boy can imagine in addition to the feelings of guilt and desperation he will feel as he passes the all-important threshold into adulthood in a way he never could. Along his way Joe absorbs wisdom and advice from a strong cast of fierce women aunties as well as his Mooshum, a contemporary of Nanapush who pops up with his own sage wit as do some other recognizable names from the rez.
[Love how Erdrich has this small linked community that exists within her books, a la certain Stephen King, hers meaningful for the Reservation it portrays as his is of small town rural America. LaRose appears in this book: so excited I’m planning to read that one next already before she did!]