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Byron Graves's REZ BALL - Community and Basketball on the Rez

by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)


Book cover of Byron Graves's Rez Ball

Our Unabridged Podcast Buddy Read pick for November is Byron Graves's Rez Ball (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm), and I absolutely loved it! (If you'd like to join the chat—it's a fast read—we'll be discussing this one on IG on Monday, November 20. Just DM us to join.)


Tre Brun has been playing basketball on the rez his whole life, following in the footsteps of his father and his older brother, both basketball stars for the Red Lake Warriors who almost clinched state championships.


But then Jaxon, Tre's older brother, dies in a tragic car accident, and basketball comes to mean even more to Tre. He vows, as a sophomore, to move up from JV to Varsity, to make a mark that will be a tribute to his brother, his hero.


Supporting Tre are an amazing community. First are his mom and dad, both still working through their grief. Tre's best friends Nate and Wes, the latter of whom is making a documentary about Tre's basketball career, have been at his side since they were little kids. The basketball team—particularly the seniors who had played with Jaxon for his whole life—love Tre but aren't quite ready to let him take his brother's place.


Look at your parents, your grandparents, your teachers, your classmates, your friends, our Elders, our community. They're here to cheer you on, to show you love. We aren't separate—we're all connected. We are a tribe. You are them, and they are you.

It's Khiana, who moved to Red Lake at the beginning of the year and knows nothing about basketball or Tre's brother, who allows him to see himself as something other than "Jaxon's little brother."


There's illuminating commentary throughout the book about the way that the Red Lake team is treated by all-white teams in the area, discounted because of their race, their socioeconomics, their style of play.


We've been losing to the white man for five hundred years. The battles, the stolen land, the broken treaties, the way their cops hunt us down. We can finally have a victory. One they'll never be able to take away from us. And the kids here will know that anything is possible. And all of us on this team, no matter what, we will go down as heroes, as legends.

And Graves has a powerful author's note at the end of the book discussing the way that so much of the novel is drawn from his own experiences as a player at Red Lake.


Rez Ball tapped into all of the excitement of any sports-centered underdog story, and though I'm not the biggest fan of basketball, I found myself pulled into the tense moments of every game, as Tre strives to prove himself, to play well for his family, his friends, his community, and the memory of his brother. I also loved the way that Tre has to work through the challenges of both failure and success—once he starts playing on the varsity team, and starts doing well, he faces a series of decisions that make him question why he really wants to play basketball. Tre is a character who will stick with me, and Rez Ball is an incredibly engaging, powerful debut from an author I'll be following.



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