Published September 12, 2023
About Rez Ball
This compelling debut novel by new talent Byron Graves tells the relatable, high-stakes story of a young athlete determined to play like the hero his Ojibwe community needs him to be. 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. This book is published by Heartdrum, an imprint that publishes high-quality, contemporary stories about Indigenous young people in the United States and Canada.
I like a lot of things about this book. First, Tre and his family were super easy to root for. I liked the closeness between them and could really feel the gaping hole that is their grief over Tre’s brother Jaxon’s death. Tre’s friends also make up a tight-knit community whose interactions seemed really natural and believable.
I was a little bit confused by the subplot about Tre’s love life, though. The opening of the book is very basketball-focused and then there’s a long interlude where he seems very focused on a girl, and then he’s back to focusing on basketball for the rest of the book. It felt a little bit uneven, and because of that part with the focus on the possible relationship, I think I expected there to be more of a romance subplot through the rest of the book.
On the whole, though, I enjoyed the way Tre’s experience on the team changed him and impacted his whole community. I wish there had been a deeper dive into his grief and the way that playing basketball made him feel closer to his brother and possibly helped his family to heal from that loss. It’s there, but I would have liked to see that get more time in the spotlight of the story.
I found the book to be an easy read and an inspiring one. I think readers who enjoy books about sports or are looking for inclusive stories about overcoming adversity will find lots to love here.
Recommended for Ages 14 up.
Main characters are Indigenous Ojibwe tribe members.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.
Brief references to traditional rituals before basketball games. Tre’s mom encourages him to make an offering and pray to the Creator when he’s having a hard time.
Two boys get into a fistfight when one of them is drunk.
Several scenes show teens drinking alcohol. Two boys get suspended from the basketball team for drinking. One boy asks the team to commit to sobriety at least through the rest of the season after learning about another team who lost because they’d been hungover during a game.
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