Writing by authors of native American heritage is often eye-opening as it depicts life as lived on a reservation. Writer Sherman Alexie describes this setting well, as does M. Scott Momaday, and Tony Hillerman’s mysteries center around the Navajo nation.
Louise Erdrich, the daughter of an Ojibwe mother, has published novels, stories, and poems filled with fascinating characters and tales, which sometimes depart into magic realism narrated by certain characters. "The Round House," set on a "rez" in South Dakota, won the National Book Award and was the Washington Post’s best book of the year in 2012. It starts with a brutal crime and maintains suspense, while chronicling a very likable young boy's coming of age. He tells the story from his adulthood as a lawyer.
The narrator, Joe, age 13, is determined to find the person who attacked his mother. She has retreated into silence, unable to tell anyone what happened and who is responsible. Until the attack, Joe's everyday life was pretty much filled with hanging out with friends Cappy, Zack, and Angus, who plan daring and not entirely legal adventures on their bicycles, drop in on relatives willing to cook up huge feeds for them, and spend time lusting after women. Not unusual teenagers, except for their desire to bring someone in the community to justice.
There is a wealth of detail about the characters, how they live, what they do day by day and how they are related to one another. An examination of good and evil weaves throughout, and bonds of tribe, family, and community inform the story.
Joe's dad, a tribal judge, lends wisdom and restraint while trying to bring his traumatized wife back to what she was before. Conversations with his son touch on points of law that stimulate the son's thinking about the case. We can envision him as a lawyer later in life. The wheels of justice grind very slowly as tribal law and federal law conflict, but author Erdrich never lets up on the suspense. In the end, the book is an enjoyable and beautifully written page-turner.