Why does Junior compare Penelope to his dad?

Junior’s father and Penelope share a trait: addiction. While Junior’s father struggles with alcoholism, Penelope suffers from bulimia, an eating disorder that causes her to purge her meals in order to avoid weight gain. Both alcoholism and bulimia are incredibly damaging conditions that cause deep emotional and physical harm, yet both Junior’s father and Penelope are in denial about their addictions.

Junior’s father and Phoebe also use similar rhetoric to justify their diseases, claiming that they’re only alcoholic or bulimic when indulging in that addictive behavior. While Junior sees through these excuses, he also has a lot of empathy for both his father and Penelope, understanding that their addictions are crutches for their mental pain. For Junior’s father, it’s both the generational, cultural pain associated with the mistreatment of Natives, and the individual pain of poverty and loss. For Penelope, it’s the pain of young womanhood. Her bulimia allows her to live up to the pressure of maintaining her beauty and provides her with a semblance of control in her confined and limited life.

How does Mary die?

Junior’s sister Mary leaves the reservation and marries a young Native man. They live together in a trailer in Montana. Like Junior’s father and many others in their reservation community, Mary and her husband abuse alcohol. One night, they have a large party at their trailer. The couple drinks copious amounts of alcohol and passes out in their bedroom. A party guest attempts to cook soup on a hot plate in the trailer, but likely also due to their own inebriation, forgets about the meal and leaves without turning off the stove. A curtain drifts into the open flame and catches fire, eventually burning down the entire trailer. Because Mary and her husband are drunk to the point of unconsciousness, they do not wake at the signs of smoke or fire and remain comatose throughout the fire, never becoming aware of the circumstances and dying without pain.

Why does Junior draw cartoons?

Junior draws cartoons because being an artist and communicator makes him feel important and understood. Junior recognizes art as a universal language, saying that when words fail, drawings can encapsulate everything he needs to say. Because of his history with health issues, and his acute intelligence, Junior is ostracized on his reservation, seen by many of his peers as nerdy and odd. Isolated from many of the people in his age group, and dealing with the stresses of his family circumstances, Junior uses drawings as an outlet to freely express his emotions. Junior also sees a hopeful future in his art, picturing himself an as important figure. He recognizes that the arts – whether it’s music, writing, filmmaking, or so on – provide people of color with opportunities for wealth, fame, or success that they often cannot achieve otherwise in a racist and classist society.

How does Eugene die?

Eugene, Junior’s father’s best friend, is a kind, laid-back man who works as an EMT and occasionally drives Junior to school on his motorcycle. Eugene is a secondary father figure to Junior, who considers him an uncle despite their being no blood relation. However, like Junior’s father, Eugene is an alcoholic and often partakes in irresponsible drinking. One night, Eugene and his close friend Bobby are drinking copiously together in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. Bobby, who is armed, shoots Eugene in the head, killing him. Because Bobby was blacked out during the incident, he doesn’t remember what led up to the shooting, but the police conjecture that the two friends may have been fighting over who got the last sip of alcohol in their bottle. After sobering up, Bobby is heartbroken. Riddled with guilt, he dies by suicide only a few weeks later. Eugene’s death and Bobby’s suicide only further cement the senseless violence and loss that Natives on the reservation endure.

Who is Junior's best friend?

Although the two boys have a complicated relationship, Junior’s best friend is Rowdy, whom he grew up with on the reservation. Rowdy carries a lot of anger due to his abusive father, but he has a soft spot for Junior, whom he has protected from verbal and physical harassment since they were both children. While Rowdy isn’t a particularly expressive person, Junior understands him on a deeper level and treats him with a gentleness Rowdy doesn’t receive from anyone else in his life. In return, Junior feels that Rowdy is one of the only people who truly listens to him, and places Rowdy first on his list of people who bring him joy. However, the boys’ friendship struggles when Junior begins attending Reardan, and Rowdy feels abandoned by Junior. Although the tension between the two is bitter, it’s clear that the boys still care about each other and won’t cross any lines that will completely ruin their friendship. While Junior makes many new friends at Reardan, he doesn’t grow to love any of them as much as he loves Rowdy. When the two reconcile at the end of the novel, their friendship is only deeper and more intimate due to the struggles they’ve overcome.