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The Second Chance of Benjamin Waterfalls

by James Bird

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303791,578 (3.5)None
After being caught stealing one too many times, Benjamin Waterfalls is sent to a "boot camp" at the Ojibwe reservation where he searches for answers as he tries to turn his life around and embrace this second chance.

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Gr 5 Up—Benjamin Waterfalls is used to being in trouble, until his most recent shoplifting lands him a sentence in
"boot camp" with his Ojibwe family. Set in modern-day Grand Portage, MN, this tale of redemption and healing leans
heavily on Ojibwe traditions and wisdom. A heartfelt story of second chances.
  BackstoryBooks | Apr 1, 2024 |
This novel is a 2023 Lone Star selection. I listened to this novel, so my review is based on the amazing narration.

Benjamin Waterfalls is a thief. He claims to be a successful thief, but he has been caught quite a few times. The judge told him not to come back the last time. Well, he's back. All because he didn't follow his own rules for stealing. He saw the teddy bear and couldn't stop himself. The judge says that it's time for Benjamin to pay for his choices and plans to send Benjamin to juvie. Benjamin's mom agrees except wants a slight change, if the judge will allow. Let Benjamin go to his father and participate in Ojibwe Boot Camp. What? Benjamin hasn't seen his father in seven years since he WALKED OUT ON THEM. No, thank you! He'd rather go to juvie. Well, the good looking judge allows this change of plans and off Mr. Waterfalls goes on a greyhound bus three hours north of Duluth, Minnesota.

Ojibwe Boot Camp fails to live up to Benjamin's expectations. Benjamin feels a lot of anger toward his father, which his father deflects pretty well. He has a sense of humor and tries to pull Benjamin's humor back to the surface. Needless to say, Benjamin wants to get boot camp started so that it can end and he can go back home. He discovers that his father has Wendy and her son in his house. Wendy is always hungry, which adds some more humor to the book. Wendy agrees to have Benjamin here under certain rules, and you do NOT mess with Wendy. Benjamin's room consists of the garage with the three dogs. Great, Benjamin thinks--he'll smell like dogs all of the time. "Boot camp" begins with a visit to Wendy's bookstore where he meets Niimi. She is a mask-wearing superhero who seems to know Benjamin's thoughts and actions before he does. If she can't help him, he's doomed to the handsome judge's sentence.

I want the novel to unfold without anymore information, so I'll leave the novel to unfold. Benjamin never knew that his parents talk and keep up with him, so he finds a lot of surprises in the novel. In addition, he discovers that his definition of "boot camp" and the Ojibwe definition of "boot camp" differ. The magical realism adds to the Native American feel of the book, as some strange things may or may not occur. I enjoyed the novel because I liked Benjamin. He may make bad choices and have a bad attitude about life, but he has a sense of humor and he's willing to do all of what is asked. He's really not a jerk--like he could be. He says some mean things, but he immediately regrets these comments, showing that he doesn't believe in hurting people. He steals to have some form of power. I still like him because he does everything asked of him. Even when he's asked to do something embarrassing, he does it. He's not happy when he discovers he's been the joke, but he doesn't lash out. He takes it. I also like how much he loves his mother. He feels bad about hurting her, but he loves her completely. Niimi, his boot camp leader, has great statements that can really make a difference to someone who wants to learn from the novel. His dad has funny dad jokes. Wendy and her food add humor as well. It's really a pretty fun way to learn how to care for others. Yes, it's rather didactic, but the lessons are interesting and real. Learning that there are different forms of rehabilitation that bring a community together make this novel a really great, and entertaining, novel to read. ( )
  acargile | Dec 9, 2022 |
I wanted to like this more than I did -- I enjoy Bird's brand of magical realism, and that continues in this book. Things I wasn't so sure about:

I don't think I understand the type of Native humor presented in this book. There were some parts I found genuinely funny, but I don't understand humiliation humor.

I just didn't connect with the characters. It was fairly slow-paced and dreamy, with a lot of internal soul-searching -- nothing wrong with that, but I have to want to spend time with the folks doing that searching and I didn't.

I did not find the sudden romantic turn believable. I also just didn't buy into the whole superhero philosophy.

I loved seeing Ojibwe representation and language, and the fact that it deals with a kid in a serious situation.

This is one of those I'm not your intended audience, hope that it appeals to those who are kinds of reviews.

Advanced Reader's Copy provided by Edelweiss.
( )
  jennybeast | Apr 14, 2022 |
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After being caught stealing one too many times, Benjamin Waterfalls is sent to a "boot camp" at the Ojibwe reservation where he searches for answers as he tries to turn his life around and embrace this second chance.

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