... wonderful ... a remarkable achievement ... [Powell] spends time with a wide array of people who live on the reservation, and presents their stories with a sympathy that's never condescending. The results of his interviews can be heartbreaking ... a book about basketball the same way that Buzz Bissinger's Friday Night Lights is a book about football — while sports are the ostensible focus, Powell's real interest is the community that drives the team. That's not to say Powell's coverage of Chinle's games isn't fascinating; indeed, he recaps the matches with an expert pacing, and creates an atmosphere of suspense as the Wildcats' season progresses. He's an excellent sportswriter with an obvious love for the game, and he does a great job explaining what makes rez ball so unique ... But it's his deep dives into the lives of those associated with Chinle and its high school that sets Canyon Dreams apart. He profiles not just the players and coaching staff, but also teachers, townspeople and activists, and the result is a moving portrait of what it's like to live on the reservation. Powell even incorporates memoir into the book, writing about his own explorations of the town, and how he came to be so invested in its people ... difficult to categorize, but it's unmistakably beautiful. Powell is a gifted and giving writer, and his book is at once a reflection on youth and ambition and a fascinating chronicle of a town's struggle to survive in a world that's often cruel and hostile.
... less a basketball book than a Native American Fiddler on the Roof, a book about young people caught between tradition and bilagáanas, the world outside ... Powell, a sports columnist for the New York Times, has a fine reporter’s eye and sensibility. He talks to aunties and uncles and makes you understand why despite it all — the broken homes, the poverty, the lack of opportunity — the reservation is home. Canyon Dreams is a sports book, but one unlike any you’ve read before, and one that will stay with you long after the final horn has sounded.
... [an] engrossing...expansive book ... What mainly defines the culture in Chinle, in Powell’s eyes, is a resilience that he’s careful not to sentimentalize ... the mood lifts whenever Powell covers a game day ... the book becomes a gripping, propulsive story about a playoff run. The basketball and cultural stories aren’t parallel but braided, the problems woven around possibility.
... a riveting account ... In Friday Night Lights fashion, the season that followed included inspiring wins and disappointing defeats. Through it all, Powell makes clear that Mendoza’s aim was to provide more than basketball skills for his players. He was helping to prepare them for life off the rez, if that’s what they chose. Powell knows his basketball, and his game accounts are exciting, but the real strength of Canyon Dreams is the insight it provides into the unique culture of the reservation.
For all the exotic locale, Powell could have easily fallen into sporty clichés. He doesn’t, instead delivering a deeply felt portrait of life in a place where alcohol is a constant killer and the outside world ever encroaching but that, despite poverty, is so beautiful that Navajos mourn being outside it. The author writes with elegance about the Diné Bikéyah, or Navajo world, and his on-the-boards scenes are full of action, if sometimes too closely focused on the repeated motif of the mean coach who 'often…lashed at the Wildcats for their mistakes and uneven effort even in victory' while leading them to unprecedented achievement ... As exciting as a full-court press and a thoughtful study of young athletes in a world little known to outsiders.