How do you find friends when you’re a Native American, surrounded by white kids in an accelerated program? Lewis Blake lives on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in New York. His best friend on the Rez is sort of a jerk, but when he finally becomes friends with a white kid, his Uncle warns him that he will never fit in with “those people.” So Lewis struggles with the question of “where do I belong?”
It is 1975 and Lewis’ favorite band, The Beatles, have broken up. He’s taken up interest in Paul McCartney’s Wings (hence the double meaning of the title of the book.)
Gansworth explains in the author note that “…each part title is a riff on a song, as noted, and each of the chapters is named, in alternating order, for a Beatles song and a Paul McCartney post Beatles song.” I found this technique immersed me in the setting of the story, firmly grounding me in the seventies as I read it.
Lewis may actually want to “get out of here,” here being the Rez, but he is unsure of his path. His home is in such poor condition that snow blows through it during the common blizzards of upstate New York. Their stove is actually outside the main part of the small house, making cooking in the winter a very cold proposition. So, in one way he does indeed want to eventually get off the Rez.
But it’s the only home he’s ever known. When he becomes friends with George, a boy who lives on a nearby military base, Lewis finds that their living situations have some things in common. But George’s house is not falling apart, so Lewis keeps making excuses for why he can’t invite George over, the worst excuse being a lie about his mother.
Lewis and George share a love of all things Beatles and Paul McCartney. It turns out George’s father also shares this obsession and soon Lewis feels almost like a member of George’s family. But when George becomes preoccupied with a girlfriend, and the school bully, who mercilessly beats up Lewis every chance he gets, goes unpunished, Lewis realizes he, alone, must take drastic action.
This is quite simply one of the best YA books I have recently read. The portrayal of an interracial friendship, the overt racism of the seventies, and the music that plays all throughout in the background, will resonate with many a teen and even most of their parents as well. In the end, If I Ever Get Out of Here is a story of what true friendship means and how it can bond two people and see them through the obstacles of growing up, no matter how different they are, or the circumstances of their birth.