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Mary’s email is dated November 16th 2006. Mary says she loves Montana and that she recently rode a horse for the first time. She is looking for a job. The Montana rez is weird because some of the towns have more white people in them than Indians, and one white town even tried to secede, or break off from, the rez. She writes about her honeymoon at a hotel on Flathead Lake. The hotel room service menu offered traditional Indian fry bread, and she ordered some. Mary says she loves her husband, her life, Montana, and Junior.
There is no snow on Thanksgiving, and Junior and his parents have a big Thanksgiving meal. Junior says he doesn’t understand why Indians celebrate Thanksgiving like everybody else. What do Indians have to be thankful for? Junior’s dad says Indians should be thankful white people didn’t kill all of them, and Junior and his Dad laugh. After the meal, Junior misses Rowdy. He draws a cartoon of himself and Rowdy as super heroes giving each other a fist bump, and takes it over to Rowdy’s house. Rowdy’s dad says Rowdy isn’t home, but he will give Rowdy the cartoon even though it’s “a little gay.” As Junior walks away, he sees Rowdy holding the cartoon through the upstairs window. Junior waves, and Rowdy gives him the finger, but he doesn’t tear up the cartoon.
Junior leaves Mr. Sheridan’s history class because of a bathroom emergency. While on the toilet, he hears someone violently throwing up in the girl’s bathroom. He finishes his business, and knocks on the girl’s room door. The girl tells Junior to go away, but he leans against the wall and waits for the girl to come out. It’s Penelope. Junior says Penelope is anorexic. She says she is bulimic. She says bulimics are only bulimics when they throw up. Junior is reminded of his father. “Hey Penelope,” Junior says, “Don’t give up.” Penelope cries. Junior and Penelope become a couple, “more like friends with potential.” Weeks later outside school, Penelope’s father, Earl, tells Junior to keep his hand out of his daughter’s pants, says Penelope is only with Junior because she knows it will make him, her father, mad. If Penelope and Junior have mixed raced children, Earl adds, he will disown her.
Junior thinks Penelope might just be dating him because he’s new in school and exotic. But, he says, he is kind of using her too. Dating Penelope makes Junior more popular. Junior says there are the shallow reasons like these that he and Penelope are friends, but there are also deep reasons. They have big dreams, and they both want to leave their small homes. Penelope wants to travel the world and to study architecture at Stanford. Junior includes a drawing of Penelope and asks the reader if it was wrong for him to stare at her all day long.
Mary’s email is reproduced as if it were copied from Junior’s account. This verisimilitude—the e-mail’s seeming as if it were reproduced from real life—is part of the novel’s “absolutely true” claim to be Junior’s diary. More significantly, this is the first time Mary has a chance to speak for herself. She seems perhaps suspiciously over-positive about Montana and her husband. Maybe Mary does feel mostly good about her rash decision, but some anxiety and pain slips through the cracks when she discusses her difficulty finding work. Though Mary does not say she misses the Spokane reservation, she devotes most of her message to describing fry bread at the hotel. The fry bread there is great, but only almost as good as Mary and Junior’s grandmother’s. Mary’s story about the fry bread suggests she is homesick but unwilling to say so. Like Junior’s hopefulness, Mary’s optimism borders on naiveté. But, unlike Junior’s plan to attend school in Reardan, Mary’s actions have been desperate. Throughout the story, Junior suggests that the real reason for the difference between his and his sister’s lives is dumb luck. As Mr. P said early, Mary was a smarter and better student than Junior.
Read more about Mary’s naiveté and Junior’s privilege.
Though Junior is incredibly conscious of the political forces that have shaped his life on the reservation and his identity as an American Indian, this awareness does not necessarily translate into politically correct speech. Junior doesn’t call himself a Native American, but an Indian. He is not afraid to use dark comedy, or morbid humor, as a way to cope with the pressures that shape his life. Though, on Thanksgiving, Junior and his father essentially laugh about what many historians refer to as the genocide of American Indian peoples by white, European settlers, one might argue that laughter is a more empowered response to pain and oppression than tears. Junior returns to analyze the similarity of laughter and tears for American Indians in the chapters to come. Rowdy’s father, who the reader encounters directly for the first time in the “Thanksgiving” chapter, is one of the most unsympathetic characters in the book. He is an alcoholic, a child-abuser, and homophobe. Rowdy’s father serves as an example of how those who have found themselves marginalized and the victims of systematic prejudice—who feel themselves to be hated—often respond by hating others.
Read an important quote from Junior using dark humor to cope with dark subjects.
From Junior’s perspective, Penelope has everything she could want. She is white, attractive, and intelligent. She knows nothing but hope and opportunity. Junior is shocked, then, to discover that Penelope’s opportunities come with their own difficulties and pressures. When Penelope argues that being a bulimic—a person who binge eats and then throws up—is somehow more temporary or less harmful than being an anorexic—a person who intentionally starves him or herself—she is rationalizing her self-destructive behavior. Junior’s response once again reveals the optimism and compassion at the core of his character. He offers support and encouragement. One possible explanation for Penelope’s interest in Junior is Junior’s kindness. Penelope’s extremely racist father, Earl, offers a second opinion. Junior sees that it is a mixture of who he is and what he is that has determined his opportunities in life. Junior is even able to gain enough perspective on his situation to recognize that a large part of his feeling for Penelope is infatuation with her appearance, even her whiteness.
Read more about Junior’s attraction to Penelope’s whiteness.