I am the second Antone Bazil Coutts, but I’d fight anyone who put a junior in the back of my name. Or a number. Or called me Bazil. I’d decided I was Joe when I was six. When I was eight, I realized that I’d chosen the name of my great-grandfather, Joseph. I knew him mainly as the author of inscriptions in books with amber pages and dry leather bindings. He’d passed down several shelves of these antiquities. I resented the fact that I didn’t have a brand-new name to distinguish me from the tedious Coutts line – responsible, upright, even offhandedly heroic men who drank quietly, smoked an occasional cigar, drove a sensible car, and only showed their mettle by marrying smarter women. I saw myself as different, though I didn’t know how yet.
Louise Erdrich’s The Round House tells the story of a Native American family living on a North Dakota reservation and their coping with the aftermath of trauma. Thirteen year old Joe narrates the events following the attack of his mother. The details of the attack are slow to emerge due to the stress his mother has endured and her unwillingness to reveal her attacker out of fear and complex circumstances uncovered throughout the novel. Joe and his crew of friends work to solve the mystery of who attacked his mother and why, hoping to feel a sense of justice and bring normalcy back to the Coutts family.
The Round House can be read in different ways. On the surface, it’s a page-turner about a terrible crime: sorting out the turn of events and uncovering evidence, identifying the criminal and bringing him to justice. It also provides insight into Native American reservation life. It highlights the strife between the Ojibwe and the surrounding white residents as well as the often unjust outcome of crimes that occur on reservation land due to jurisdictional confusion. Lastly, it’s a coming-of-age story. Joe is thirteen and is suddenly thrust into the adult world. Through his narration, readers experience his struggle with grownup issues like assault, criminal justice, and rebuilding after trauma while exploring the bonds of friendship, sense of self, sexuality, and experimentation with alcohol. Erdrich crafts a superb cast of characters, a rich cultural history, and colorful imagery to deliver a riveting tale. Those with a faint heart, beware. There is graphic content in this National Book Award and YALSA Alex Award winner.