Sunday, August 27, 2023


Rez Ball 
Written by Byron Graves (Ojibwe)
Cover by Natasha Donovan (Métis)
Published by Heartdrum
Published in 2023
Reviewer: Debbie Reese
Review Status: Highly Recommended

Earlier this month I was in San Diego at the California Indian Ed for All 2023 Summit. I was invited to give a presentation about children's books. During that trip I was reading an advance copy of Rez Ball by Byron Graves. At the gathering during breaks or meals, I'd tell people 'Hey! I'm reading this new book, Rez Ball....' and I'd tell them a bit about what I'd been reading. Their faces lit up and I was glad to see them jotting down the title. For me, and them, and so many Native kids, basketball is the game!

The morning of my departure, I was so caught up by the book that I nearly missed my plane! 

I'm one of the Native kids who grew up on a reservation where playing basketball was the thing. In high school some of my cousins from Nambé played on the basketball team. Years later, I taught at a school for Native kids and can't tell you have many times I got hoarse, cheering for our teams (especially when we were making it to state championship games). Then came a years-long span of time when I wasn't watching games. But then last year we moved to California and I started following the NBA. 

When I was reading Rez Ball and came across references to Steph Curry, and LeBron, and Kevin Durant, I texted friends to tell them! I gotta say, there were many exclamation points in my texts. 


You can tell: I really like this book! Here's the synopsis:

These days, Tre Brun is happiest when he is playing basketball on the Red Lake Reservation high school team—even though he can’t help but be constantly gut-punched with memories of his big brother, Jaxon, who died in an accident.

When Jaxon's former teammates on the varsity team offer to take Tre under their wing, he sees this as his shot to represent his Ojibwe rez all the way to their first state championship. This is the first step toward his dream of playing in the NBA, no matter how much the odds are stacked against him.

But stepping into his brother’s shoes as a star player means that Tre can’t mess up. Not on the court, not at school, and not with his new friend, gamer Khiana, who he is definitely not falling in love with.

After decades of rez teams almost making it, Tre needs to take his team to state. Because if he can live up to Jaxon's dreams, their story isn’t over yet. 

Set on the Red Lake Reservation, Rez Ball is by a Native writer, and it is tribally specific through and through. Those are the two main things I look for as I read a book. In Rez Ball, there's families and cousins, and hanging out with them. Homes have Native art on the walls. Families serve Kool-Aid. Ojibwe words and rez-slang are mixed into their everyday speech. Kids read books by Native writers... It is way cool to see one reading Dawn Quigley's Apple in the Middle! And that passage about the Indigenous Baby Yoda shirt? Well, that was perfection! Across the country, Native people wrap baby Yoda with a warm embrace. Native people went all-out on social media, sharing memes and items they made.

In Rez Ball, there's teen parties where kids are drinking. And there's harsh realities, too. Native kids are profiled by security officers at shopping centers off-rez, and by police. And they deal with rivals who taunt them with anti-Indigenous slurs. 

Life of Native kids on reservations -- Byron Graves gives it to us straight. The joys and the tears... it is all here. As noted above, I highly recommend Rez Ball and I look forward to seeing what Byron Graves writes next! 

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