Books by State: North Dakota

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

“One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface because Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.” — Amazon’s summary.

Joe’s search for the truth with his friends’ assistance reminded me of Stand by Me, especially the relationship between Joe and Cappy. They have a stronger emotional connection to each other than they have with Zack and Angus. They reminded me of Gordie and Chris in Stand by Me. Cappy refuses to let Joe go through with his eventual plan of getting back at the man who hurt his mother on his own. Even though Joe tried to do it on his own, Cappy had his back without being asked.

The tribal stories, rituals, and history of law mentioned throughout the story are also incredibly interesting. I’ve always found Native American culture to be one of the most fascinating. Though, their history is also one of the most depressing. This is certainly prevalent throughout the story as Joe is the son of a judge and becomes a lawyer himself later on in life; certain cases involving the beginnings of Native Americans seeking equal justice under the law are mentioned (though whether they are entirely accurate or simply based on actual cases I am not sure) to further exacerbate and/or explain why Geraldine’s case is not able to be prosecuted thoroughly. Plus, the ever prevalent racism is heart-wrenching, frustrating, and utterly disgusting.

I feel like this is a strong story both when it comes to history/culture and as a coming of age story. The build up of clues, Joe sneaking around, sprinklings of history and culture, moments of action, and the climax are all very well paced and draw you deep into the story, as well as endear you to the characters so you form a bond with them. It’s incredibly well-written and intriguing to the last page.

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