But The Round House? I don't even know where to start talking about how amazing this book is, on so many different levels. Erdrich is really at the top of her game here (which is saying something). This is a hard book to read, because of the violence and the justice system involved, but please don't let that stop you. You will learn many things you didn't know before, but you won't realize you're learning because the story and characters are so gripping that the education slips in almost subliminally.
Joe is the 13-year-old only child of Geraldine and Bazil. When a horrific act of violence is committed against his mother, Joe learns from his lawyer/judge father just how justice works--or doesn't work--when geographical boundaries are crossed involving Indian reservations and the white man's world. Being 13, and all that implies, Joe decides to do some investigating himself, along with his friends Cappy, Zack, and Angus. Beyond that, I can't tell you anything without giving spoilers.
I will say that I could hardly put this book down; my maternal instincts went into overdrive with fear and affection for Joe. I don't know if I've ever seen a better fictional example of the role community plays in the lives of small-town residents than this book. Or how a character who appears to be a bad guy up front may turn around in surprising, yet believable ways.
This is a smaller landscape than Erdrich often paints. She usually covers multiple generations or points of view, or both. Here we are solidly in Joe's head, with everything focused not only through his early teenaged eyes, but from the perspective of the older Joe reflecting back. I thought the choice of narrator was somewhat odd at first, given that the story seemed to belong to Geraldine, but it wasn't long before I realized the value of having Joe tell us the story. He sees reactions in the community that Geraldine probably never saw, and although it's the attack on Geraldine that sets the story in motion, the effects of the attack reach far more people, and Joe is in a better position to report on that.
Erdrich has usually been a very lush writer, downright mystical, but that's toned way back here. (Not completely--there are still lovely passages, especially about nature.) That's fitting with the narration by a 13-year-old boy. He's less likely to wax poetic and philosophically, and more likely to come up with observations like this one:
"Suzette and Josey's married children started pulling up in their low-slung old cars. When the car doors opened, the grandchildren bounced out like Super Balls."
The story is set in 1988, and the quartet of boys are Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, with lots of references to characters and plotlines from that venerable TV show. It's often funny, and yet, if you've ever spent any time watching the idealized world of TNG, it provides a painful undercurrent to the starkly different reality the boys live in.
I wish I could quote more--I marked several passages--but there's a danger of spoilers in many quotations, and I don't want to go there.