Junior, whose real name is Arthur Spirit, lives on a Native American reservation where opportunities are limited.
To add to his problems, he was born with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) which has caused him some physical limitations.
Junior's best friend, Rowdy, is a cynical tough guy.
In spite of his rough exterior, Rowdy always has Junior's back - that is, until Junior makes the radical decision to attend the school in the white community rather than the Reservation school.
During the last half of the book, just when Arthur Junior seems to be having some success, several painful losses come into his life.
His beloved and wise grandmother, who represents the Indian side of his life, dies after being hit by a drunk driver.
There is no winner - just as there is no requirement for Junior to choose between the white world and the native world.
He realizes that he belongs to more than one 'tribe,' and that this can be a positive in his life.
For a reader outside of this culture, it is fascinating to read about the dilemma of Junior's teacher on the Reservation, Mr. Though Junior gets angry when he realizes that the books and materials he has available are so old that his mother had the same books, he also admires and respects Mr. An encounter with his teacher is what ultimately motivates Arthur to transfer to Reardon.
The reader also experiences the difficult decisions that people in extreme poverty have to make.