Book Review, Rez Ball, by Byron Graves Published September 12, 2023 Recommended for grades 8-12, 368 pages Please note: this book is not yet in the Pageturner library and requires a student request be submitted for the book to be purchased

This novel is one of the 50 most highly recommended books of 2023 for all teens by the New York Public Library. Most of the on-court basketball references escaped me, but the first person narrative was compelling, although it started awkwardly.  Maybe that was just me.
 We meet Tre Brun within months of his big brother's lethal car accident on the Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation where they live in northern Minnesota. Jaxon Brun was the reservation's star bball player and had been on the high school varsity team since 8th grade--historically an unheard of achievement. Tre's parents are grieving to such an extent that Tre is essentially invisible, which was tolerable when he, too, worshipped Jaxon--but now, he needs more, especially because he's grieving, too:
 "It hurts the worst when they blame themselves. I never know what to say, or if I should say anything at all. But it tears me up inside when I see them get that distant look in their eyes when their stories go that direction. Some nights they talk in circles, wondering if Jaxon would still be here if they had been stricter or if he’d had a curfew. On really bad nights, they slowly start blaming each other, pointing out who let him get away with what. Or they get caught up on the events of that day. How they should have put winter tires on Jaxon’s car, or how they should have gotten him something better for winter driving, like a Jeep or a truck, instead of passing down their old car. Those nights their voices grow quieter with every sentence. Those nights rip the stitches off my heart...Sometimes I feel like I’m the ghost here." 
 Their dad was also a star, in his heyday, and once Tre begins to shine, he immediately believes Tre should fill both Jaxon's shoes and his own--an unfairly heavy burden: 
 “'There’s no way you don’t make it this year. You’re my son. You were born with my skills. Just like Jaxon was. Top two scorers in school history, and the first two to lead the Warriors to district championships.” I try not to roll my eyes. It’s like he thinks he’s Odin, Jaxon was Thor, and we live on Asgard. Guess that would make me Loki.” 
 Tre works hard. He's drilling every day on his own, along with his JV. Then a couple of guys on the varsity team are caught drinking and he's invited to replace one for their two weeks' suspension, although he'd been rejected from varsity because he's only a sophomore. This is a tough entry, because not everyone is supportive of the newcomer, especially under these circumstances. He flubs his first game, but soon improves. Then he REALLY improves, and he becomes a full time member of the varsity team:
 " 'I mean, look at you. You’re tall as hell, and fit. Would be weird if you didn’t play at least one sport.” ‘I am?’ I look down at myself, like Pinocchio when he turns into a real boy.” 
 He falls in love--or thinks he does--with a girl who's very clearly told him she's not interested that way. When his bff starts dating her, he starts binge-drinking and finally punches his friend out during a party where alcohol flows freely and he's so drunk his lips are numb. By this time, he's become the star his brother was, and so the school principal gives him a break--on condition that he gets the entire team to refrain from drinking until the remaining two weeks of the season are over. Despite thinking it'll never work, with his parents help he hosts a pizza party at his home and asks his team to stay clean while they go to state. And they all agree.
 Will they win state? At the very beginning of the book, we've read about the dream of even going to the state finals: "If our team wins, we go to the state tournament, which our school has never done, ever. If we lose, well, we go home, like usual."
 This is author Byron Graves' debut novel. He is an Ojibwe native who grew up on the Red Lake Reservation. (Another Ojibwe native you may recognize is acclaimed author Louise Erdrich, who wrote The Round House and The Sentence, among other noteworthy novels.) Mr. Graves played basketball there; his team, like Tre’s, even made it into Slam magazine. He knows how important the game is on his reservation, and how the losses of yesteryear wear especially heavy against older generations, along with two hundred+ years of irreparable losses to whites.* This is his homage is to his people.
*The very first treaties with native tribes began locally in 1670 with the Treaty of Hartford.  Between 1776 and 2018 the USA entered more than 500 treaties with indigenous peoples, often forced, with whites acting on behalf of natives. (The singular exception to representation by whites was a treaty made by the Osage Nation, which cleverly retained oil and mineral rights for the tribe because of astute negotiations made by their tribal representative--but this only occurred as one of 7 treaties in which they’d lost 75% of their land in just 31 years.  After oil was discovered on Osage land, the tribe instantly became the wealthiest in the nation. In Killers of the Flower Moon, author David Grann describes how whites defeated that treaty by forcing all Osage members into conservatorships governed by whites--as a result, at least 60 tribal members were murdered and/or disappeared, often by the very people who had sworn to love and care for them in marriage.) Of those 500 treaties, almost all have been broken by the federal government.
“According to current publishing data, most people haven’t yet read contemporary books with Native American/First Nations protagonists. Children’s and young adult literature that includes a wide variety of cultures, traditions, and beliefs can help both Native and non-Native readers experience life on a larger scale. Stories dedicated to Indigenous, modern-day characters promote empathy by letting readers vicariously experience their struggles, celebrations, and daily lives. Reading these books creates opportunities for teachers and students (Native or non-Native) to better understand one another and to communicate more effectively.”