Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

Rez Ball

by Byron Graves

Rez Ball

by Byron Graves

Review posted January 22, 2024.
Heartdrum (HarperCollins), 2023. 357 pages.
Review written September 29, 2023, from my own copy, sent from the publisher.
Starred Review
2024 William C. Morris Debut Award Winner
2024 American Indian Youth Literature Award Winner, Best Young Adult Book
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 More Teen Fiction

I read this book because it’s eligible for the 2024 William Morris Award for best young adult debut book, so I’m writing this review before I’ve discussed it with the committee in order to guarantee this is only my opinion and I’m not giving any information about what the committee thinks.

Note: This was written after my first time through the book. I read it twice in print and then listened to it as an audiobook, and my appreciation only grew.

Rez Ball is a sports novel. I don’t generally love sports novels, but this one hooked me into a couple late nights turning pages.

It’s the story of Tre Brun, a sophomore at Red Lake Indian Reservation high school, hoping to play varsity basketball. His big brother Jaxon had been the star of the team last year. But Jaxon died in a car accident, and his team just missed going on to the state championships for the first time ever.

Now the same starters are back, but is there a place for Tre? And he and everyone else know that he’s not the same ball player as his brother. Is he good enough?

I thought Tre came across as an authentic sophomore boy who’s big and tall and has fame suddenly thrust upon him. He’s awkward with girls, feels like he needs to prove himself at parties, and has a lot to live up to in the shadow of his big brother. I love the way the author winds all that into Tre with believability and likeability, and you feel his thrill when the whole rez is cheering for him, but also the weight of those expectations.

The team does come up against some ugly racism in spots, and Tre has some friendship issues to untangle. And every part of the story makes it feel all the more true.

This is a sports novel that made me want to give the protagonist a great big hug. It was a lovely combination of showing his insecurities along with the pride and thrill of playing ball with excellence. A sports novel to love – even if you don’t particularly like sports novels.