Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

I chose this novel as part of my young adult book club, during which we evaluate books for possible use in the classroom. It’s a national book award winner and about an underrepresented group, Native Americans.

Taking place in the late 1980s, the book details the brutal rape and attempted murder of the main character’s mother. Joe, only thirteen, is forced to watch as his family life suffers as a result of the crime. Because of the complicated laws in existence, the crime cannot be persecuted or punished because of its location—the distinction of being on federal versus state versus reservation land.

I did enjoy the elements of Native American life—both glimpses into modern reservation life as well as glimpses into the older way of life, such as dreams and mentions of spirits called wiindigoos. It’s also important to consider how the tangled web of laws can harm those least able to fight for their rights.

The book felt long to me, thought, and took a while to read. I attribute most of this to the fact that the author did not use quotation marks for her dialogue. In fact, if I did not have to finish this book for my book club, I would not have. I do understand that some authors are choosing not to use quotations marks for dialogue for various stylistic reasons, but to me, it is a disrespect of the reader’s time. I am a fast reader, but the lack of quotes slowed me down significantly.

As all the other members of my reading group noted, the ending was a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting something much more significant or insightful, something helping to bring all the threads together, even if in an unsettled way. When I turned the page after the last chapter, I was shocked to find there was no more. It felt unfinished and abrupt. I’m not sure if the author did this intentionally. Joe does give us glimpses into his future throughout the novel, but I was thinking we would get a bit more of a glimpse into that by the end.

I won’t reveal more because if the plot is spoiled, I’m not sure how much the novel really has going for it.

In terms of appropriateness for a classroom, I would suggest using passages to study style and voice. There is underage drinking, sex, and drug use as well as violence up to and including murder.

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