Junior is, besides being a teenager struggling with the usual teenage-problems, a hydrocephalic. This makes him stutter and lisp and regularly get seizures, something that makes him the outcast of the reservation. He gets picked on and beaten up on daily basis. This, although, does not stop him from being a funny, sensitive and utterly brave kid. The reservation Junior lives at is portrayed as a place of great beauty, but also a very destructive community with poverty, alcoholism, abuse, and senseless death.
Mr. P, one of his teachers talks about it as a sad place with no hope. He explains how he sees everybody give up. Defeated by their poor destiny. All his friends and bullies, their parents and grandparents, even the teachers, have given up. But Mr. P sees a fighter in Junior. He fought brain surgery, seizures, drunk and drug addicts and bullies. He kept his hope. This is where the central conflict of the novels comes in.
The teacher says he can’t fight them forever; they are all going to “kill” him if he stays at the reservation. Junior has to find a place where other people have hope. “Son, you’re going to find more and more hope the farther you walk away from this sad, sad, sad reservation. ” Junior makes the decision to leave the reservation school and attend the privileged white high school in Reardan, twenty-two miles away. This makes him a traitor caught between two worlds: his home in Wellpinit and the white school he attends.
Feeling like an outcast in both places, he is forced through a meaningful journey to find a new kind of identity. Sherman Alexie is known also for other works with realistic depictions of the reservation life, which he himself calls “reservation realism”. He is an expert on the struggles the narrator is facing through the novel. This sort of makes the novel an autobiographical depiction of the life at the Wellpinit reservation, where the author himself grew up.