The story of a Navajo high school basketball team, its members struggling with the everyday challenges of high school, adolescence, and family, and the great and unique obstacles facing Native Americans living on reservations.
... 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.