IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE by Eric Gansworth – Reviewed by Nancy Bo Flood
IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE, written by Eric Gansworth, tackles several tough issues and is written with a raw rugged honesty. The author is an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation who grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in upstate New York and his coming of age novel brings the reader to his Reservation world. This world for most readers is a very different place, a different culture, but this novel resonates with universal themes for teens from any place or culture: the clash of social expectations, the struggle to understand one’s own identity and within that, to figure out, “who am I and who do I want to be.” What is my place within my family, school, community and friendships?
In this novel Lewis Blake steps – or leaps – out of the safety and familiarity of this Reservation life into the nearby, nearly all-white junior high. Lewis, an Indian, and, worse than that, a smart Indian, is uninvited, unwelcomed, and certainly unappreciated.
Lewis’s passion is music – guitar and Beatles, particularly Paul McCartney. Listening to McCartney’s new “post-Beatledom” songs, Lewis asks himself:
“I wondered which life McCartney himself secretly wanted – his new one in Wings or his old one with the Beatles…he wanted to make a distinction…He wanted to be Paul McCartney, not “Beatle Paul.” In the same way, I thought, I wanted to be just me, Lewis Blake, not “Indian Lewis” like I was at school. I didn’t have any objection to being known as an Indian, but couldn’t I have my own life as just me? Or like McCartney, was I stuck being expected to play the songs of my first band for the rest of my life? Could you play both, or were you required to make a choice?”
Could you have both? And could you share it with a friend who lives on the other side of Snakeline, the boundary between Reservation and White? Friendship is always tricky, but being friends with “them” requires many risky decisions. Music becomes a strong link of communication, a safe language.
Francisco X. Stork on the book’s back cover describes the heart of this story: “The beauty of this novel lies in the powerful friendship between two young men who are so externally different and so internally similar.”
Lewis’s new friend, George, is a military kid with an Air Force dad who has many strict rules and a German mother who keeps a meticulously clean home. How can Lewis trust anything about them? Or trust himself not to embarrass himself and humiliate his entire family? At home his best friend is his uncle, a war-damaged Vietnam Vet. And what if his White classmates ever found out what it really means to be a Reservation Indian?
How far does one go to be a friend? Risk physical safety? Betray one’s family? Humiliate oneself? Even drop out of school?
This novel reminds one of Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Bleak honest descriptions of Reservation life – a house that is falling apart, a family that is missing a father, but something strong holds the family together.
IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE does answer Lewis’s question, “Could you play both?” The answer echoes words by Simon Ortiz, written as part of his introduction to Norla Chee’s poetry collection, CEDAR SMOKE ON ABALONE MOUNTAIN:
“It is necessary I believe to indicate and illustrate comparisons in order to express a fuller and richer dimension of cultural vitality. And to show cultural entities not working against or not contrary to others but to depict the differences that bring about a fuller appreciation of different cultural legacies in vigorous relationship with others.”
Lewis Blake, one smart Indian, is bullied and rejected by many peers and adults for trying, but not by everyone. In this book, we experience the confusion and courage felt and required each day in little actions and big ones, by many, especially Lewis, as he continues to ”play both.”
Eric Gansworth, author, has published nine books of fiction and poetry for adults, exhibited his art internationally, and as an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in upstate New York.
From School Library Journal –
The history and tradition of the Navajo rodeo are made lively and accessible in this “day-in-the-life” account. Short narrative poems accompany each spread, recounting the anticipation, determination, danger, and excitement of the day… Warm and inviting, the book gives a real sense of what it’s like to be a part of the Navajo rodeo.
A top-notch introduction to a unique event.
Nancy Bo Flood writes and teaches on the Navajo Reservation where she hikes, rides her bike and attends local rodeos. She is the author of several award-winning books including Navajo Year, Walk Through Many Seasons and Warriors in the Crossfire (Saipan, World War II). Recent titles are No-Name Baby and Cowboy Up, Ride the Navajo Rodeo, a Junior Library Guild Selection.