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The next few weeks are lonely for Junior. No one talks to him on the reservation or at Reardan. Plus, he starts getting a big old zit (fig 12.1). He feels alone, like a zombie.
A few good things, though, are happening. Junior realizes that he is smarter than most of the kids at Reardan.
For example, in geology class, he has to explain to Mr. Dodge, the teacher, that petrified wood isn't really wood. It's minerals in the same shape as the wood.
Mr. Dodge is not exactly happy about Arnold's know-it-all-ness (fig 12.2), but his victory in class leads him to make friends with Gordy, the class genius, who confirms Arnold's answer about the petrified wood.
Arnold thanks Gordy for backing him up in class. Gordy says he did it not for Arnold, but for "science" (12.60). (Nerd alert.)
After school, Junior rides the bus to the reservation border and waits for his Dad, who doesn't show up. Junior again starts walking the twenty-two miles home, but manages to get a ride from the Bureau of Indian Affairs guy.
At home, Junior's mother is crying. Mary, Junior's sister, has run away to Montana and gotten married to some random guy. This is just devastating to his mother.
Indian families are deeply tribal and rarely move away from the reservation, Junior tells us. Needless to say, his Mom is pretty freaked out.
Junior learns that Mary's new husband is a Flathead Indian and a poker player. Mary said she liked him because he wasn't afraid to gamble. Junior's mother says he was actually kind of ugly.
Junior tells us that the Montana Indians are so tough that the white people are afraid of them.
Junior feels a little inspired because he realizes his sister hasn't given up; she's actually following her dream. He feels like he and his sister are being warriors.
The next day at school, the emboldened Arnold approaches Gordy, the boy genius, and tells him that he wants to be his friend. Well actually, it doesn't happen quite like that. First they discuss "tautologies" (12.136) and then Gordy tells Junior that Junior has a "singular wit" (12.151)—but after that, Junior asks him to be friends.
At first Gordy thinks Junior is gay, but Junior assures him that he is not.
After that, the two become friends, but actually more like study partners.
Gordy teaches Junior how to study, and how to read. And we mean read read.
Gordy tells Junior that he has to read a novel several times to really understand it. He first has to read a novel for the plot, then for the history and the meaning of each word.
Junior tells Gordy that he draws cartoons, and that he takes them seriously. Junior thinks Gordy will think that's all kind of stupid, but Gordy doesn't. Gordy says: "If you're good at it, and you love it, and it helps you navigate the river of the world, then it can't be wrong" (12.189).
Gordy then says that really good books and cartoons should give you a "boner" (12.193).
Let's back up for a minute:
Gordy takes Arnold to the library of the school and shows him the books. He says that, even if you read one book a day, it would take almost ten years to read them all.
"The world, even the smallest parts of it, is filled with things you don't know" (12.203), Gordy says.
Gordy and Junior discuss the getting "metaphorical" boners for knowledge (12.210).
All that means, Gordy says, is joy. A boner is joy and a lust for life—and learning.