Cover image for Book Club kit : The round house
Book Club kit : The round house
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Harper, 2012.
Physical Description:
8 bks. (321 p.) ; 24 cm. + 1 discussion guide
National Book Award for Fiction, 2012
When his mother, a tribal enrollment specialist living on a reservation in North Dakota, slips into an abyss of depression after being brutally attacked, 14-year-old Joe Coutz sets out with his three friends to find the person that destroyed his family.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader Grades 9-12 5.1 17 Quiz 156731 English fiction.


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On Order



The Round House won the National Book Award for fiction.

One of the most revered novelists of our time--a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life--Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.

Riveting and suspenseful, arguably the most accessible novel to date from the creator of Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, and The Bingo Palace, Erdrich's The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction--at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.

Reviews 7

Publisher's Weekly Review

When Geraldine Coutts, a Native American woman living on a North Dakota reservation, is assaulted and raped, she retreats into solitude. Her husband, Antone, a tribal judge, tries in vain to find the culprit while her 13-year-old son Joe begins his own investigation. Actor Gary Farmer turns in a workmanlike performance of Erdrich's literary mystery. He reads in crisp, clear tones-though occasionally he enunciates so carefully the narration sounds stilted and slows the pace of the story. Farmer struggles to lend unique voices to the book's characters-and this is particularly unfortunate given the rich, varied cast. Farmer provides the bulk of the characters with vocal pacing and verbal idiosyncrasies that don't differ from his narration. And this makes it extremely difficult for listeners to keep track of who is talking to whom and under what circumstances. A Harper hardcover. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In her intensely involving fourteenth novel, Erdrich writes with brio in the voice of a man reliving the fateful summer of his thirteenth year. The son of a tribal judge, Bazil, and a tribal enrollment specialist, Geraldine, Joe Coutts is an attentively loved and lucky boy until his mother is brutally beaten and raped. Erdrich's profound intimacy with her characters electrifies this stunning and devastating tale of hate crimes and vengeance, her latest immersion in the Ojibwe and white community she has been writing about for more than two decades. As Joe and his father try to help Geraldine heal and figure out who attacked her and why, Erdrich dissects the harsh realities of an imperiled yet vital culture and unjust laws reaching back to a tragedy in her earlier novel The Plague of Doves (2008). But it is Joe's awakening to the complexities and traumas of adult life that makes this such a beautifully warm and wise novel.Through Joe's hilarious and unnerving encounters with his ex-stripper aunt, bawdy grandmothers, and a marine turned Catholic priest; Joe's dangerous escapades with his loyal friends; and the spellbinding stories told by his grandfather, Mooshum, a favorite recurring character, Erdrich covers a vast spectrum of history, cruel loss, and bracing realizations. A preeminent tale in an essential American saga. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Erdrich's exceptional new novel will be actively promoted with a national tour and a coordinated blog tour as well as extensive print, radio, and social-media appearances.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

LAW is meant to put out society's brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind. Louise Erdrich turns this dire reality into a powerful human story in her new novel, in which a Native American woman is raped somewhere in the vicinity of a sacred round house, and seeking justice becomes almost as devastating as the crime. The round house itself stands on reservation land, where tribal courts are in charge, but the suspect is white, and tribal courts can't prosecute non-Native people. Federal law would also seem to apply, but the rape may have taken place on a strip of land that is part of a state park, where North Dakota's authority is in force, or on another that was sold by the tribe and is thus considered "fee land," administered under a separate tangle of statutes. When he hears that the judge handling the case is uncertain whether the accused man can be charged at all, the 13-year-old boy whose mother was raped pursues his own quest for justice. Narrating this gripping story years later, having himself become a public prosecutor, Joe shows how a seemingly isolated crime has many roots. In the process, this young boy will experience a heady jolt of adolescent freedom and a brutal introduction to both the sorrows of grown-up life and the weight of his people's past - "the gut kick of our history, which I was bracing to absorb." "The Round House" represents something of a departure for Erdrich, whose past novels of Indian life have usually relied on a rotating cast of narrators, a kind of storytelling chorus. Here, though, Joe is the only narrator, and the urgency of his account gives the action the momentum and tight focus of a crime novel, which, in a sense, it is. But for Erdrich, "The Round House" is also a return to form. Joe's voice - at times lawyerly, ruefully reviewing the many legal limbos of Native American history, but also searching, attuned to the subtleties of his own and others' internal lives - recalls that of Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, one of the narrators of Erdrich's masterly novel "The Plague of Doves." That's appropriate because Joe is the judge's son. In "The Round House," Erdrich has come back once again to her own indelible Yoknapatawpha, a fictional North Dakota Indian reservation and its surrounding towns, with their intricately interconnected populations. This time, we land here in the summer of 1988, when a new generation is about to come of age but old crimes, family dramas and love stories still linger in memory. If "The Round House" is less sweeping and symphonic than "The Plague of Doves," it is just as riveting. By boring deeply into one person's darkest episode, Erdrich hits the bedrock truth about a whole community. Some of the memorable characters last heard from in "The Plague of Doves" reappear. Listening to his grandfather, Mooshum, talking in his sleep, the boy learns the story of the round house that gives the novel both a crime scene and a metaphorical heart. Its shape is meant to commemorate the body of a buffalo that once provided shelter during a snowstorm for Nanapush, a young man caught in difficult circumstances (whom Erdrich readers may recognize as one of the narrators of her early novel "Tracks"). Built "to keep their people together and to ask for mercy from the Creator, since justice was so sketchily applied on earth," the round house, like Native American culture itself, has proved tragically vulnerable. Mooshum, randy as ever even though he's now claiming to be 112 years old, provides not just priceless knowledge of the old ways but welcome comic relief in a novel about deeply serious matters. And he's not alone. Grandmothers crack one another up as they embarrass teenagers with tales of an 87-year-old man who "can go five hours at a stretch." These older Native Americans, as Erdrich writes of one old lady, have "survived many deaths and other losses and had no sentiment left." Sexuality seethes underneath every plot twist, offering bliss and violence as equal possibilities. Much of the novel's suspense comes as Joe and his friends make their own first forays into the mysteries of sex, eager to be initiated into its secrets, even as they search for a man who has committed a terrible sexual crime. In trying to track down his mother's attacker, Joe is seeking an answer to the question of what makes a person turn violent - and what a society should do with violent people. Mooshum's story of the round house also involves Nanapush's mother, who is suspected of being possessed by an evil spirit, or "wiindigoo," which sometimes happens in "hungry times" and makes a person "become an animal, and see fellow humans as prey meat." As tribal tradition has it, justice in this sort of case follows its own rules, but it never wavers on the necessity of killing a true wiindigoo. Erdrich juxtaposes a tradition like this against the Roman Catholic conviction that every evil, "whether moral or material," ultimately "results in good." And she contrasts it with the legal system of the United States, which has failed Indians in the many oaths that have been broken and in the "toothless sovereignty" given to reservation authorities, as well as in what Judge Coutts labels their "jurisdiction issues." These legal black holes have created an opening for predators to operate unchecked and unpunished, a situation that, we learn in an afterword, is only beginning to be remedied after the Tribal Law and Order Act was passed in 2010. Still: Be careful, liberal-minded reader! In Erdrich's hands, you may find yourself, as I did, embracing the prospect of vigilante justice as regrettable but reasonable, a way to connect to timeless wisdom about human behavior. It wasn't until I put the book down that I recognized - and marveled at - the clever way I had been manipulated.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Sovereign nation status, racism, and perseverance are the prominent themes in this exceptional novel told from the vantage point of Joe, an Ojibwe boy whose mother has been raped. Set in 1988 in North Dakota, this is an especially timely story as society considers legislation on violence against women. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Guardian Review

At the beginning of The Round House, the novel's 13-year-old narrator, Joe, is helping his father pry out tree seedlings that have lodged in the cement-block foundation of his family's house. For the first time ever, Joe's old man, a judge on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in the late 1980s, tires of the task before the boy does and leaves him to finish up. The symbolism is a shade heavy-handed, a fault that has been found with Erdrich's books in the past. Soon, father and son will learn that Geraldine, Joe's lovely mother, has been brutally raped, and the different ways the boy and the man respond to this trauma can be construed from this seemingly mundane beginning. The Round House, winner of the 2012 National Book Award for fiction, is a fusion of two stories, although that seedling image suggests an apter term: grafting. There is the assault on Geraldine not just the question of who committed it, but almost as important, where. As Erdrich explains in her afterword, conflicts of jurisdiction and sovereignty have long made it difficult to prosecute non-Native men for the rape of Native-American women on or around reservations. Geraldine was attacked somewhere near the ceremonial structure that gives the novel its title, and the land thereabouts is a jigsaw puzzle of state, federal and tribal territories, each with different laws and different officials empowered to enforce them. One in three Native women will report being raped in her lifetime, and 86% of the perpetrators are non-Native men, most of whom have good cause to expect they'll get away with it. It's possible to be horrified by this situation without the dramatic assistance of a novel, which is not to say that rape and reservation life can't serve as a premise for fiction. But rape isn't really the subject of The Round House. Rather, this is the story of a teenage boy whose world and self are pulled apart and reassembled in the course of a year. Unlike Erdrich's other novels, which feature an assortment of narrators or points of view, The Round House is limited by what Joe himself can understand. He has no imaginative access to the visceral nightmare of sexual assault. Even the adult Joe, who narrates the story from some unspecified future time, cannot fully grasp Geraldine's ordeal, perhaps because he can barely stand to think about it. Like his father, Joe concerns himself instead with the pursuit of justice. The crime, its investigation and its consequences are the insidious, tenacious seedlings working their way into Joe's life; the foundation, the solid concrete of his world, is the reservation. With his three best buddies, Joe bikes around the landscape of his evaporating childhood. It's a terrain vibrant with woods and lakeside beaches, legendary local characters, kindly aunts who can be relied upon for food, nasty dogs to avoid, adult men to be looked up to ("Whitey had a jailhouse spit so sleek, so accurate. Like he'd gone a period of his life with nothing to do but spit") and, if they're really lucky, a pretty girl or two to have a crush on. They debate the relative merits of the characters in Star Trek: The Next Generation ("Naturally, we all wanted to be Worf") and challenge a Christian youth group for the right to skinny dip at a particularly fine swimming hole. The most memorable, endearing passages of The Round House connect only tangentially to the boys' efforts at amateur detection. They spy on the new Catholic priest, a former marine and a survivor of the 1983 embassy bombing in Lebanon, an impressive figure who is "almost enough to make a boy want to be a Catholic". "Not only did he own a copy of Alien, not only did he have an amazing and terrible wound, but [after he catches them] he had called us humiliating names without actually resorting to the usual swear words." In their perpetual, heat-seeking hunger, they brave the kitchen of Grandma Thunder, one of those "Indian grandmas where the church doesn't take, and who are let loose in their old age to shock the young". She accomplishes this by reminiscing about the physical peculiarities of her former lovers in lavish detail. With their intense interest in the decolletage of Deanna Troy and their frequent, inopportune hard-ons, Joe and friends might seem unshockable, but their sexuality, however unruly, is fundamentally innocent. Erdrich portrays it with great, bawdy fondness. As Joe sees it, he likes Sonja, the former stripper who lives with his uncle Whitey, "the way a boy likes his aunt". She feeds and mothers him when Geraldine descends into a paralysing depression, and she comes to his aid when his investigation leads to a dangerous discovery. "But I felt differently about her breasts," he elaborates. They are "my two loves", objects of a mesmerised fascination he strives mightily to conceal. It's through the twists of Joe's relationship to Sonja, rather than through his mother's victimisation, that the boy learns how desire can be poisoned by rage and selfishness. Meanwhile, the adults around Joe offer him rival ways to respond to his mother's suffering and its perpetrator, who is as one-dimensionally monstrous as the baddie in a paperback thriller. His father makes the case for rule of law, a conglomeration of seemingly bloodless determinations that he hopes will someday add up to true sovereignty for his people. The priest talks of free will and God's ability to "draw good from any evil situation". God and the law play the long game, but Joe's ancestors, whose beliefs are transmitted in the tales of his ancient grandfather, had a policy for handling a wiindigoo a person possessed by a spirit that would make him or her "become an animal and see fellow humans as prey meat". "The thing to do," his grandfather explains, "was you had to kill that person right away." That Joe, still as much child as man, should be confronted with such a choice is as terrible as any other crime depicted in The Round House. Laura Miller's The Magician's Book is published by Little, Brown.

Kirkus Review

Erdrich returns to the North Dakota Ojibwe community she introduced in The Plague of Doves (2008)--akin but at a remove from the community she created in the continuum of books from Love Medicine to The Red Convertible--in this story about the aftermath of a rape. Over a decade has passed. Geraldine and Judge Bazil Coutts, who figured prominently in the earlier book, are spending a peaceful Sunday afternoon at home. While Bazil naps, Geraldine, who manages tribal enrollment, gets a phone call. A little later she tells her 13-year-old son, Joe, she needs to pick up a file in her office and drives away. When she returns hours later, the family's idyllic life and Joe's childhood innocence are shattered. She has been attacked and raped before escaping from a man who clearly intended to kill her. She is deeply traumatized and unwilling to identify the assailant, but Bazil and Joe go through Bazil's case files, looking for suspects, men with a grudge against Bazil, who adjudicates cases under Native American jurisdiction, most of them trivial. Joe watches his parents in crisis and resolves to avenge the crime against his mother. But it is summer, so he also hangs out with his friends, especially charismatic, emotionally precocious Cappy. The novel, told through the eyes of a grown Joe looking back at himself as a boy, combines a coming-of-age story (think Stand By Me) with a crime and vengeance story while exploring Erdrich's trademark themes: the struggle of Native Americans to maintain their identity; the legacy of the troubled, unequal relationship between Native Americans and European Americans, a relationship full of hatred but also mutual dependence; the role of the Catholic Church within a Native American community that has not entirely given up its own beliefs or spirituality. Favorite Erdrich characters like Nanapush and Father Damien make cameo appearances. This second novel in a planned trilogy lacks the breadth and richness of Erdrich at her best, but middling Erdrich is still pretty great.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Thirteen-year-old Joe lives happily on a reservation in North Dakota with his tribal judge father, his mother, and their close-knit community. A single act of violence cleaves his family, leaving his mother an isolated rape victim, his father preoccupied with an unattainable justice, and Joe, reeling in the aftermath, left to draw his own conclusions about what must be done. This New York Times best seller is undoubtedly well written, with carefully crafted, believable characters who evolve throughout the story. Gary Farmer provides solid narration, with the exception of a few irksome mispronunciations of local place names. Verdict The book is highly recommended for all collections. Read-a-likes include previous works by the author, some of which share characters with this work, or those by David Treuer, who also writes on Native American themes. ["Erdrich skillfully makes Joe's coming-of-age both universal and specific," read the review of the New York Times best-selling Harper hc, LJ 8/12.-Ed.]-Lisa Anderson, Omaha P.L. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.