Hot Best Seller

Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation

Availability: Ready to download

The moving 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. Deep in the heart of northern Arizona, in a small and isolated patch of the vast 17.5-million-acre Navajo reservation, sits Chinle High The moving 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. Deep in the heart of northern Arizona, in a small and isolated patch of the vast 17.5-million-acre Navajo reservation, sits Chinle High School. Here, basketball is passion, passed from grandparent to parent to child. Rez Ball is a sport for winters where dark and cold descend fast and there is little else to do but roam mesa tops, work, and wonder what the future holds. The town has 4,500 residents and the high school arena seats 7,000. Fans drive thirty, fifty, even eighty miles to see the fast-paced and highly competitive matchups that are more than just games to players and fans. Celebrated Times journalist Michael Powell brings us a narrative of triumph and hardship, a moving story about a basketball team on a Navajo reservation that shows how important sports can be to youths in struggling communities, and the transcendent magic and painful realities that confront Native Americans living on reservations. This book details his season-long immersion in the team, town, and culture, in which there were exhilarating wins, crushing losses, and conversations on long bus rides across the desert about dreams of leaving home and the fear of the same.


Compare

The moving 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. Deep in the heart of northern Arizona, in a small and isolated patch of the vast 17.5-million-acre Navajo reservation, sits Chinle High The moving 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. Deep in the heart of northern Arizona, in a small and isolated patch of the vast 17.5-million-acre Navajo reservation, sits Chinle High School. Here, basketball is passion, passed from grandparent to parent to child. Rez Ball is a sport for winters where dark and cold descend fast and there is little else to do but roam mesa tops, work, and wonder what the future holds. The town has 4,500 residents and the high school arena seats 7,000. Fans drive thirty, fifty, even eighty miles to see the fast-paced and highly competitive matchups that are more than just games to players and fans. Celebrated Times journalist Michael Powell brings us a narrative of triumph and hardship, a moving story about a basketball team on a Navajo reservation that shows how important sports can be to youths in struggling communities, and the transcendent magic and painful realities that confront Native Americans living on reservations. This book details his season-long immersion in the team, town, and culture, in which there were exhilarating wins, crushing losses, and conversations on long bus rides across the desert about dreams of leaving home and the fear of the same.

30 review for Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Chinle, Arizona, Navajo nation where basketball offers much to players and their family, fans. This sport is King here and coaches come and go. They are expected to win. So, yes the sport is a big part of this book, and the authors descriptions of the matches, some of the both exciting. Mostly basketball, but not all. This is also a look at those who live on the reservation, the lives of the players, present and last, and the teachers and others who try to make a difference. The author does a Chinle, Arizona, Navajo nation where basketball offers much to players and their family, fans. This sport is King here and coaches come and go. They are expected to win. So, yes the sport is a big part of this book, and the authors descriptions of the matches, some of the both exciting. Mostly basketball, but not all. This is also a look at those who live on the reservation, the lives of the players, present and last, and the teachers and others who try to make a difference. The author does a fantastic job, interviewing a wide range of people. Aunties, uncles, those clinging to the old ways and those trying to embrace the new. Poverty, bad habits, lack of opportunity keep many of these people at or below the poverty level. Despite this, the reservation is their home and many who leave return and some never leave at all. Cultural practices are noted, the games with possible curses, between the Apache and Navajo are outworldly. Superstition rules! Also part memoir as the author chronicles his own experiences in Chinle, a place and a part of the country he came to fully embrace. So, this can't and shouldn't be written off as just another sports book. It is indeed, so much more.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tucker

    As a long-time resident of Southwest Colorado I have made numerous journeys through the Navajo reservation. It is a land of breath-taking beauty, and in places, extreme poverty. Isolation, limited employment opportunities, homelessness, and wide-spread alcoholism can make for a very harsh and bleak life, but basketball unites far-flung communities and provides hope across the reservation. There, basketball is a passion and has been for generations. “Canyon Dreams” tells the story of the Chinle As a long-time resident of Southwest Colorado I have made numerous journeys through the Navajo reservation. It is a land of breath-taking beauty, and in places, extreme poverty. Isolation, limited employment opportunities, homelessness, and wide-spread alcoholism can make for a very harsh and bleak life, but basketball unites far-flung communities and provides hope across the reservation. There, basketball is a passion and has been for generations. “Canyon Dreams” tells the story of the Chinle high school boys basketball team’s attempt to become state champions, but that’s only a part of the story. Michael Powell immerses the reader in a richly detailed exploration of Navajo history, culture, spirituality, and the landscape of this vast and sparsely populated area of the US. He is a talented sports writer, but it’s this immersion in the Navajo world and people that make this book so remarkable. Highly recommended. Thank you to Penguin and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lance

    On a native American reservation in northern Arizona, there is a small patch of land where Chinle High School sits. However, nearly everyone on the 17.5 million acre reservation knows about the school because of its basketball team. At the school and the surrounding community, the game and the team are a passion. The love of the game has been passed down for generations. Journalist Michael Powell follows the team for one season and his observations are the basis for this excellent book. On a native American reservation in northern Arizona, there is a small patch of land where Chinle High School sits. However, nearly everyone on the 17.5 million acre reservation knows about the school because of its basketball team. At the school and the surrounding community, the game and the team are a passion. The love of the game has been passed down for generations. Journalist Michael Powell follows the team for one season and his observations are the basis for this excellent book. Basketball is only a part of the story. Powell intertwines stories from many different Navajo people – young and old, male and female, players and spectators, even the coach himself – in order to illustrate much about life on the reservation for everyone as well as the excellent basketball played at the school and on the playgrounds where it is known as “rez ball.” The reader will learn about the hardships endured, the traditions and respect for nature embedded in Navajo culture and oh, yes, how important the basketball games are for everyone, not just the players. The perspectives of the players are also interesting lessons in the conflicts they face – do they work on their games in the hope of gaining a college scholarship? By doing so, they will have to live life outside of the reservation, something many of them have never experienced, but on the other hand, many see no hope for improvement in their lives if they stay. Powell writes with equal excellence about basketball and native American culture, both the beautiful and the ugly. I found this mixture an excellent narrative about the entire culture fascinating and when the Wildcats kept winning and kept advancing, I couldn’t help but cheer them on as hard as I would for my favorite college or professional teams. Any reader interested in native American culture as well as basketball should add this one to their library. I wish to thank Blue Rider Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. https://sportsbookguy.blogspot.com/20...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chris Gager

    My brother just finished this and gave it to me. I do have a "thing" for Arizona so I'm hoping that this will be fun. It's been a while since I read any non-fiction so that's another reason for me to read this. So, we're off and running(literally) with the Chinle High basketball team. They're off to a rough start but better times loom ahead - I presume. The author provides all kinds of background to his story: cultural, historical, athletic, geographical and geological. It's all good to me. I've My brother just finished this and gave it to me. I do have a "thing" for Arizona so I'm hoping that this will be fun. It's been a while since I read any non-fiction so that's another reason for me to read this. So, we're off and running(literally) with the Chinle High basketball team. They're off to a rough start but better times loom ahead - I presume. The author provides all kinds of background to his story: cultural, historical, athletic, geographical and geological. It's all good to me. I've never been anywhere near Chinle or Canyon de Chelly, but I remember Mesa Verde archaeology friends(summer of 1973) telling me that I needed to go there. Maybe some day ... I had my chance in the winter of 2007 but didn't make it. There's a U. S. highway(191?) that runs north and south the length of eastern AZ and Chinle is on it's more northern part. It's called the Coronado Trail after you-know-who. I've only been on a bit of it east of Safford on my way to Silver City, NM. Getting towards the homestretch in this enjoyable read(made better if you are experienced with Arizona(mostly) geography and have a Delorme Atlas). Not great literature but capable enough and possessing of a compelling subject matter. Now finished with this interesting read. The author presents a pretty comprehensive view of life on the Navajo Reservation OUTSIDE of the fortunes of the Chinle High basketball team(boys). Some of that life is pretty challenging and some is pretty rewarding. There's no mention of AA and AA meetings, though alcohol and drug abuse is a BIG problem. One thing is for sure: life in Phoenix/Flagstaff/Denver/Albuquerque/Tucson is a far different thing than life on the rez. This is a recurring theme in the book and Mr. Powell does a good job of presenting both sides of the issue. 3.5* rounds down to 3*.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Like all good nonfiction sports stories, it's not really about the sport. It's about the culture surrounding it. In this book, we get to watch a Navajo Nation basketball team seek glory on the court during a tough season. The story follows the individuals lightly, instead focusing on what it means to grow up in this part of Arizona at this time in history, particularly as it comes to the challenges of modern Native life. There is a lot of pain and hurt, as well as a lot of hope -- and it's Like all good nonfiction sports stories, it's not really about the sport. It's about the culture surrounding it. In this book, we get to watch a Navajo Nation basketball team seek glory on the court during a tough season. The story follows the individuals lightly, instead focusing on what it means to grow up in this part of Arizona at this time in history, particularly as it comes to the challenges of modern Native life. There is a lot of pain and hurt, as well as a lot of hope -- and it's through basketball so many can rally around and cheer for something outside of personal challenges. Powell's writing is smooth and engaging, and though it's not from the perspective of a Navajo writer, Powell spent time on the reservation and clearly worked hard to bring as many of those voices to the story as possible. He does it well, and I'd put this book up there with the (myriad!) other great nonfiction sports stories that look at the power a collective game can have on an otherwise challenged community. The audiobook is fine -- Darrell Dennis is clearly as enamored with the story as Powell is and that comes through in his performance.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Barthelmess

    I liked the Book Canyon Dreams by Michael Powell a lot, therefore I gave it five stars. I liked how Powell brought me into the life of living on the reservation and the different struggles they had to go through. The Book was about the Basketball players at Chinle High School in Arizona. It goes through the lives of the kids and some lessons they have learned and difficulties they have gone through such as no electricity or running water. Additionally we learn about the coach and athletic I liked the Book Canyon Dreams by Michael Powell a lot, therefore I gave it five stars. I liked how Powell brought me into the life of living on the reservation and the different struggles they had to go through. The Book was about the Basketball players at Chinle High School in Arizona. It goes through the lives of the kids and some lessons they have learned and difficulties they have gone through such as no electricity or running water. Additionally we learn about the coach and athletic director who also lived on the reservation and help the kids achieve their goals. The coach isn’t only a coach but he is a mentor for the kids and he pushes them to their limits in life and in basketball to try and win the state championship. I would recommend this book to people who are interested in Basketball and learning about struggles on reservations and the lives of Navajo natives.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt Lieberman

    Basketball has achieved a following across the world and as Michael Powell illustrates in Canyon Dreams, the sport’s influence has managed to seep into the cultural fabric of the isolated and rugged terrain of the Navajo Nation in the American southwest. The book provides a snapshot of life on “the rez” through following a season with the Chinle High School basketball team. Though the basic premise of “a year with a high school team that has some interesting characteristic” is standard for the Basketball has achieved a following across the world and as Michael Powell illustrates in Canyon Dreams, the sport’s influence has managed to seep into the cultural fabric of the isolated and rugged terrain of the Navajo Nation in the American southwest. The book provides a snapshot of life on “the rez” through following a season with the Chinle High School basketball team. Though the basic premise of “a year with a high school team that has some interesting characteristic” is standard for the sports genre, Powell elevates above the mini-genre by taking more of a sociological approach to his subject. Canyon Dreams is really a nuanced and detailed depiction of Navajo Nation life, where understanding “rezball” and the passion it inspires is essential to understanding Navajo life. The central figure in Canyon Dreams is Raul Mendoza, Chinle’s septuagenarian and old-school coach who is equal parts mentor/surrogate father and basketball tactician. He’s certainly not the only high school basketball coach fitting that description, but what makes Mendoza especially compelling is that he has achieved this success largely through coaching undersized teams composed of athletes from local tribes. Not only do many of his players have to contend with alcoholism, drugs, and poverty impacting their families but they are also generally much smaller than their competition across the state. Powell embedded himself in the Chinle community while writing the book and spends plenty of time with Mendova and gets to know everyone on the roster through extended interviews and home visits and accompanying the team on some of its interminable bus rides across the state. Basketball is hugely popular in the Navajo nation (Chinle has 4,500 residents but its basketball gymnasium accommodates 7,000 and is always packed with all members of the community during games), but Powell also profiles former Chinle players and the school’s valedictorian to shed light on the challenges that face those who leave the rez and the pressures many deal with to remain within the community even if there might be brighter prospects elsewhere. There are some long stretches of the book without any basketball action where Powell documents life on the rez, hiking its canyons, visiting the trailers and hogans where most residents live, and driving by the stretches of liquor stores that are pockmarked across its roads, and these were my favorite portions of the book. Chinle’s basketball exploits were reasonably entertaining and Powell writes about them well (though like many sportswriters he occasionally falls victim to some pretty weak and forced metaphors), but he really uses basketball as a springboard to explore greater Navajo culture, and this made Canyon Dreams a particularly engaging read for me. Powell is a writer for the New York Times and his book reads much like an extended version of one of the paper’s Sports of the Times columns. This shouldn’t be surprising given the book developed out of a 2017 profile of Mendoza Powell wrote for the New York Times for that exact column. With its broad scope, there is definitely enough quality material to sustain a full book and there wasn’t any padding. Overall, Canyon Dreams is a fascinating look at a culture that will be unfamiliar to most readers and I’d expect it to end up as one of my favorite sports books from 2019. 8.5/10

  8. 4 out of 5

    John Pehle

    Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation is and isn't a book about basketball. In a story sympathetically told by Michael Powell, we follow the Chinle High School Wildcats through a season but this book also addresses additional topics that include the psyche of "the other", the various spiritual influences on "The Rez", educational opportunity, and economic oppression/terrorism. The cast of characters is large: we meet Coach Raul Mendoza, players like Cooper and Angelo, and a Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation is and isn't a book about basketball. In a story sympathetically told by Michael Powell, we follow the Chinle High School Wildcats through a season but this book also addresses additional topics that include the psyche of "the other", the various spiritual influences on "The Rez", educational opportunity, and economic oppression/terrorism. The cast of characters is large: we meet Coach Raul Mendoza, players like Cooper and Angelo, and a dizzying array of parents, relatives and hangers-on. Not a single character study is wasted in the narrative, each exposing a facet of life on the Navajo Nation and the joys and burdens that accompany that life. While basketball provides the central narrative thread (and I had no idea how big basketball was in the Navajo community that overlaps the state of Arizona), there are also triumphs and tragedies off the court and those stories add every bit as much to this moving story. Coach Mendoza is a true "Zen Master" (minor apologies to Phil Jackson) and a genuine educator. Author Powell was granted close access to Menodoza's team and within the community. He made excellent use of that trust.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Yingling

    This book is far more than just a story of a high school basketball team. It is also the story of the Navajo people today; their culture, their hopes and dreams, and the reality of their lives. And it's about the lives of many individuals: the team's coach, the parents, the players on the team, and how all this comes together when the team is playing. I had no idea how strong a place basketball holds with the Navajo, and the discussion of the games is riveting, particularly when the team reaches This book is far more than just a story of a high school basketball team. It is also the story of the Navajo people today; their culture, their hopes and dreams, and the reality of their lives. And it's about the lives of many individuals: the team's coach, the parents, the players on the team, and how all this comes together when the team is playing. I had no idea how strong a place basketball holds with the Navajo, and the discussion of the games is riveting, particularly when the team reaches the state playoffs. This part of the book is incredibly exciting. I'm so glad that I was able to get to "know" these people through the author's outstanding reporting. I had respect for the Navajo, their beliefs and way of life, through the Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn mysteries written by Tony Hillerman, and this book reinforced and enriched those feelings.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lane

    An interesting story of the Chinle HS basketball team's season search for a state championship. Even more is the story of the individuals, Navajo culture and interactions with society. Not always an easy read as the story wanders and you have to put it together.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    This sounded like an interesting read where journalist Michael Powell chronicles life of Navajo high school team that has to overcome struggles that come with living on a reservation as well as the "normal" high school issues such as school, family, teenage years, etc. Powell takes us through the team's year, detailing what members go through, a bit of history of the Navajo Nation. The story was interesting but ultimately predictable. Don't get me wrong-I'm glad this story was written down and This sounded like an interesting read where journalist Michael Powell chronicles life of Navajo high school team that has to overcome struggles that come with living on a reservation as well as the "normal" high school issues such as school, family, teenage years, etc. Powell takes us through the team's year, detailing what members go through, a bit of history of the Navajo Nation. The story was interesting but ultimately predictable. Don't get me wrong-I'm glad this story was written down and the team did as well as it did. But Powell wasn't the one to tell the story--it could be my personal aversion to books written by journalists but he couldn't make it interesting or compelling at all. It was also personally rather disappointing because I had some holiday time dedicated to reading this, hoping it would be a good read to lose myself in, but not so much. I do think it's important for people to read this story, especially since a lot of people's knowledge of Natives in the US might be limited to awful Hollywood stereotypes, vague notions of reservations, the Najavo Code Talkers, etc. So I was glad to read this side, too, since this is part of their story and is not limited to what many people might think of when they hear "Native American" or "Navajo" etc. It's my understanding that the documentary 'Basketball or Nothing' also tells the story of Chinle High School basketball team, so I'll be checking that out, too. Would recommend this book as a library borrow.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    The stuff about high school sports was awesome. I coached basketball in a small school, and have incredibly fond memories of those kids and those late nights. It was great, and he does a nice job capturing that. Unfortunately, huge stretches of this book are about completely unrelated topics. Most damaging is when he paints these kids as helpless victims. He blames everything on the "white man" and turns these people in helpless victims. They can't work hard, overcome anything, or do anything The stuff about high school sports was awesome. I coached basketball in a small school, and have incredibly fond memories of those kids and those late nights. It was great, and he does a nice job capturing that. Unfortunately, huge stretches of this book are about completely unrelated topics. Most damaging is when he paints these kids as helpless victims. He blames everything on the "white man" and turns these people in helpless victims. They can't work hard, overcome anything, or do anything because of this "white man" that holds them down. It's disgusting when the story actually reveals these people succeeding when they put in the work and effort, and failing when they don't put in the work and effort. You know . . . just like everybody else. This book almost got put down because it was a constant put down of the Navajo people, along with an elevation of a culture that (if he was honest about his evaluation) is terrible. It actively seeks to pull those around you down, finds excuses for any sort of mishap, requires everything to be handed to them, and then pickles their livers when they come into contact with success or failure. Their medicine-man is so wise, their world is so beautiful, and these people are so misunderstood, now here are several examples of why, objectively, this world sucks. The author is talking out of both sides of his mouth. They can't be all-wise, beautiful, and perfect, and then need ten pages of excuses for a man who tragically drinks himself to death. The coolest story is Mendoza and his relationship with those kids, and the individual stories of the kids are tragic and they are beautiful. Mendoza sounds like an awesome coach, and an amazing school counselor, we need more people like him in the world. He treats these kids as men in need of direction, not helpless victims. The biggest proof to my criticisms are the pictures in the middle. Come on, this a non-fiction book about a real town and real kids, playing a real game. There should be 10 pages of pictures. Baby pictures, team photos, action shots, past teams, uniforms, this is the stuff sports are made of. The book includes 13 pictures, half of which are basketball related,and the other half are . . . nature? I don't know, they are random and add nothing to his story. None of the pictures are well-labeled to know who is where, and none of them are placed in the context of our story. There isn't even a team photo. Clearly, this author was not interested in basketball, these kids, or this awesome underdog story. He is interested in pushing a "woke" narrative of a repressed people and how the "white man" keeps them down. Very disappointing.

  13. 4 out of 5

    John McDonald

    The author chronicles the lives of young native Americans men who play basketball under the coaching of an intense, perfectionist coach while reconciling their lives within the clans and communities they live in on the Navajo reservations. On that level, the book truly succeeds. There were times, though, when I wasn't sure what the story was--was it the family lives of these children, the problems of poverty and alcoholism which pervades the reservations, the inability to remain on the The author chronicles the lives of young native Americans men who play basketball under the coaching of an intense, perfectionist coach while reconciling their lives within the clans and communities they live in on the Navajo reservations. On that level, the book truly succeeds. There were times, though, when I wasn't sure what the story was--was it the family lives of these children, the problems of poverty and alcoholism which pervades the reservations, the inability to remain on the reservation if you wanted to find work. These themes all are part of this mosaic of boys playing basketball (I know--I played basketball on school teams from ages 11 through 18) and all these factors can determine how a team jells. But, there were times when I wasn't sure how some of these topics illustrated the boys' lives or their ability to play championship games. There also was the ending--after the team played its last game of the season, the book ended with no follow-up of what direction the boys or other characters featured in the book, except one, took. It is difficult to write books (as opposed to stories or columns) about sports or sporting events and Powell did a workmanlike job of developing his themes. He has this writing quirk, however, that some writers have of repeatedly using metaphors or similes to explain or describe something he's attempting to tell us. On some pages, there are 4 or 5 examples of this and virtually every page has them. It is annoying to have to shift the brain from reading the story to analyzing a metaphor in order to understand the description the author wants to make. I don't view such writing as clever. I view such writing as a failure to find the words to actually describe what one is trying to write. Jason Matthews, who actually knows something about the spy game, does this so often in his novels that he sometimes is incomprehensible. My opinion, and it's more personal preference than anything else, is that every description--a scene, an event, an emotion, a characterization--must stand its own and it's up to the writer to see it clearly enough and understand its meaning to be able to replicate it on the written page. Basketball on the reservation is well known as sport without boundary, which is what makes it exciting and pure, and a worthy subject. I guess I expected a swish when I started reading this book but got something close to missed free throws. (See what I mean about the use of metaphor?) If you've played basketball, you'll know what I mean.

  14. 5 out of 5

    mmk4 Koenen

    I had heard the author interviewed on NPR and my curiosity had me purchase this book. I never knew what REZ basketball meant. I certainly did not understand or appreciate the roll of this sport in the Navajo ( or any ) reservation community. As I started reading the book I was very impressed with the imagery the author created with his prose. The whole book is placed in remote canyons, cliffs, trailers in the deserts, and generally the reservations in the Arizona area. I found that his I had heard the author interviewed on NPR and my curiosity had me purchase this book. I never knew what REZ basketball meant. I certainly did not understand or appreciate the roll of this sport in the Navajo ( or any ) reservation community. As I started reading the book I was very impressed with the imagery the author created with his prose. The whole book is placed in remote canyons, cliffs, trailers in the deserts, and generally the reservations in the Arizona area. I found that his descriptions were very strong and really gave me an insight to the geography/topography of the region. While the book provided perspective of high school life on the reservation for young male Native peoples, it also reinforced the challenging and seemingly never ending changing life situations this students face. It seems the disenfranchised Navajo community has been facing the same challenges for decades: alcoholism, broken family ties, lack of jobs, absence of decent housing ( including but not limited to isolationism, lack of electricity and piped in water). There were many individuals highlighted both student and adults. The author actually lived among the Navajo for years and had established honest and mutually respected relationships that allowed him to accurately and poignantly describe and portray (with quotes and conversations) the lives this community leads. The best characterization is of the coach and his efforts, not only to guide the young men through the situations that they face as the 'hope' of the community but also to counsel them to be strong, successful men and individuals who can achieve what they want to on the reservation or off. My final comment is the total appreciation I gained of the cultural ways and mores of the Navajo nation. The traditions, the language, the family structure, the never ending challenges and hopes and dreams of these young men but also the many influences that confront them daily.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    Best of 2020 So Far Alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, this nonfiction account of a year following a high school basketball team on the Navajo Reservation is a marvel. The author is a sportswriter for the New York Times who wanted to escape the hype of Superbowl madness and deal instead with the reality of "rez" basketball. Basketball is an obsession with many Native American communities even though most of the players are not tall enough to earn scholarships at Division 1 colleges. I had Best of 2020 So Far Alternately heartwarming and heartbreaking, this nonfiction account of a year following a high school basketball team on the Navajo Reservation is a marvel. The author is a sportswriter for the New York Times who wanted to escape the hype of Superbowl madness and deal instead with the reality of "rez" basketball. Basketball is an obsession with many Native American communities even though most of the players are not tall enough to earn scholarships at Division 1 colleges. I had no idea how important local basketball is to the entire Navajo community -- men and women, children and grandparents. This makes for a lot of pressure on any coach willing to live in bleak surroundings with challenges that are unimaginable to suburbanites like me: "Keanu had stayed up late completing a paper on Oscar Wilde for his English class. As he owned no laptop and the electricity in his trailer flickered like a candle in the wind, he had tapped out the essay on his mobile phone." Michael Powell has written a riveting story that also offers an inside look at the natural beauty of Canyon De Chelly and the survival of traditional Navajo ways among many of the young people. For the high school seniors in the book, there is a wrenching struggle as they decide whether to leave home and pursue academic dreams or remain with the family and landscape that they cherish. On a personal note, I spent a week in Canyon de Chelly on a Road Scholar trip about 10 years ago. While there, a bought I beautiful inlaid ring from a Navajo silversmith named Cecil Henry. He was still working there when Powell wrote the book and befriended him. To avoid spoilers, I will say no more, but it certainly heightened the impact.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Powell’s lens is constantly changing focus to get context and background for the team and the Navajo as a nation. Land politics, racism, moving off the rez, and alcoholism are just a few of the conflicts he weaves into the narrative. There are the dramatic scenes told from the stands at game time or the beauty of a sunrise told from the bottom of a creosote-filled canyon. Coach Mendoza is a grizzled veteran of the hardcourt who may be seeing his age separate himself from relevancy in his player’ Powell’s lens is constantly changing focus to get context and background for the team and the Navajo as a nation. Land politics, racism, moving off the rez, and alcoholism are just a few of the conflicts he weaves into the narrative. There are the dramatic scenes told from the stands at game time or the beauty of a sunrise told from the bottom of a creosote-filled canyon. Coach Mendoza is a grizzled veteran of the hardcourt who may be seeing his age separate himself from relevancy in his player’s minds, but he finds ways to motivate and connect with his players. And those players have struggles that make it difficult to focus on the game with the many distraction brought on by youth and living in unstable households. I read Pounding the Rock by Mark Skelton last year and see so many similarities between the books. Vastly different settings and population, but both show the camaraderie and the power of sport in a tough environment that lacks stable homes and economic opportunities. Obviously, because Skelton is the coach he has limited distance from the subject, and Powell shows that it’s terribly difficult to remain objective when one cares so much about his subject. I was not disappointed in the least and thought that this added greatly to the narrative. He cares about these players, their families, the coaches and the whole of the Navajo nation. Canyon Dreams is an excellent piece of sports nonfiction. Pick this book up for a portrait of resilient young men, a driven coach, and that exciting game called Rez Ball. 4.5 out of 5 stars For my full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2019/11/17/ca... For all my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michelle H

    This is a tough one because I really enjoyed the setting and cultural context of this book. There were moments where I could *feel* myself in the New Mexico desert (it’s mostly Arizona but NM is the place I called home for a long time). I think the social and cultural context is unique and important and worth trying to understand. But there were times with this that the author sometimes came across as “privileged white do-gooder trying really hard to let you know he really cares and isn’t just This is a tough one because I really enjoyed the setting and cultural context of this book. There were moments where I could *feel* myself in the New Mexico desert (it’s mostly Arizona but NM is the place I called home for a long time). I think the social and cultural context is unique and important and worth trying to understand. But there were times with this that the author sometimes came across as “privileged white do-gooder trying really hard to let you know he really cares and isn’t just being woke”. And even then I struggle because, there are some real problems that he’s presenting here and I do think he really does care. And you know, maybe he does have a unique perspective that would provide a frame for the rest of the world. I just really wish this story had been told by a Navajo writer. Even so, that was all minor. The real issue I had with this book was that it didn’t know what it wanted to be. Is this a story about a basketball team? Then tell it. And if you want to dive into the larger culture that affects them, show me how it affects the boys on the team. The school valedictorian? Not important to the story. Sure he’s smart and wants to go to an Ivy League school. But other than going to the school, he isn’t shown to have any connection to the team. He’s just there briefly, and again at the end. I think the issue is that this would make a great feature in a magazine. But maybe there wasn’t quite enough for a book, and so the other stuff was added as filler. It all matters, but technically, this book left a lot to be desired.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Canyon Dreams is, on it's face, about the championship dreams of a high school basketball team from Chinle, Arizona, a school that is the largest high school on the Navajo Nation reservation that spans several states in the area. What is truly special about this book, though, is the way Michael Powell weaves Navajo history and culture within the narrative of one basketball season for one somewhat legendary coach and his group of teenaged boys. The reader learns about life on the reservation, Canyon Dreams is, on it's face, about the championship dreams of a high school basketball team from Chinle, Arizona, a school that is the largest high school on the Navajo Nation reservation that spans several states in the area. What is truly special about this book, though, is the way Michael Powell weaves Navajo history and culture within the narrative of one basketball season for one somewhat legendary coach and his group of teenaged boys. The reader learns about life on the reservation, where alcoholism is still endemic, where many residents do not have reliable indoor water or electricity, and where there are few jobs paying much more than minimum wage. The reader also learns about how European and American colonialism impacted the history and culture of the once expansive Navajo people, from where they live, to the forced placement of Navajo children into far away white schools, to the fascinating way in which many Navajo intertwine traditional beliefs with the many sects of Christianity that have historically attempted to convert the Navajo. In the end, I felt this book was beautifully written and I learned so much about the Navajo people. For someone looking for straight sports writing, this may not be what you're looking for, but I encourage everyone to give this one ago, especially if you live in a country where indigenous populations have been subjugated to the will of colonizers and continue to exist.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Kelley

    This story follows a team of high school basketball players of Navajo heritage attempts attempt's to go to the state finals and win their coach Raul Mendoza another state title. The boys attend Chinle High school on the Navajo reservation. The passion the community has for the team is amazing they will pack 5,000 into a gym to support the hometown team, people walk, hitch hike or every other means to get there to support the team. The coach is constantly having to deal with the passion of players This story follows a team of high school basketball players of Navajo heritage attempts attempt's to go to the state finals and win their coach Raul Mendoza another state title. The boys attend Chinle High school on the Navajo reservation. The passion the community has for the team is amazing they will pack 5,000 into a gym to support the hometown team, people walk, hitch hike or every other means to get there to support the team. The coach is constantly having to deal with the passion of players families who all at different times second guess the coach ( You know the my boy should not be sitting on the bench) in support of their son on the team. Not only does this follow the teams progress it is also a history lesson about life on the reservation the struggles that many in community face with lack of jobs, alcoholism and the pull to stay on the rez or to see what else is out there in the world and the potential for going to college and the possibility of playing ball in college. The coach who at a time was also a counselor, and now he is a counselor, father figure, motivator, and over all keeper. Even though I have spent many summers on or by the reservation in New Mexico there were many things I learned from this about the Navajos dealing with the keeping their ways and following centuries teachings and practices and the pull to move of the rez to the chance for making a better life. This is a good read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    3.5 rounded down because it should have been better. Powell is a talented writer. The story, like the mesas of the Navajo reservation, is beautiful and compelling and haunting, spun with despair and greatness. However, the narrative was jarring and sometimes hard to follow. It felt like the premise was following a championship bound team of hard scrabble Navajo, interspersed with vignettes and portraits of the land, the people, and the players. What resulted, however, was a closely collated 3.5 rounded down because it should have been better. Powell is a talented writer. The story, like the mesas of the Navajo reservation, is beautiful and compelling and haunting, spun with despair and greatness. However, the narrative was jarring and sometimes hard to follow. It felt like the premise was following a championship bound team of hard scrabble Navajo, interspersed with vignettes and portraits of the land, the people, and the players. What resulted, however, was a closely collated collection of gorgeous scraps of story, like bits of beautiful paper shoved together in a file. Even with the jostling of stories, the rough scrabble narrative, it is still worth a read, and a beautiful examination of the Navajo through their love of the game.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Just as I see it, and more I lived on the Navajo reservation for 9 years now, first serving in Kayenta - closer to Chinle, then in Crownpoint - in the Eastern Agency. Powells describes the land, the people, the way of life is accurate. He articulates the intricacy of relationships between coach, athletes, family, and his own relationships with the people he encountered well. I highlighted sentences that described the reservation as I know it, and learned more about rez ball. I would recommend Just as I see it, and more I lived on the Navajo reservation for 9 years now, first serving in Kayenta - closer to Chinle, then in Crownpoint - in the Eastern Agency. Powells describes the land, the people, the way of life is accurate. He articulates the intricacy of relationships between coach, athletes, family, and his own relationships with the people he encountered well. I highlighted sentences that described the reservation as I know it, and learned more about rez ball. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain more insights into the Navajo reservation. p.s. I got to go to his book talk at Bookworks. While the sharing and the content was excellent, his pronunciation of several Navajo words bothered me - in person and in the audiobook.

  22. 5 out of 5

    brettlikesbooks

    special thanks to @duttonbooks and @penguinrandomhouse for sending me this copy of: CANYON DREAMS by michael powell (nonfiction) following the entire season of the chinle high school navajo basketball team in the sweeping desert of arizona + the real battle is in the boys’ impending choices about their future: the push & pull between the life, ways, and traditions of living on the reservation and the ‘outside’ world with its opportunities + a penetrating look at the players and their special thanks to @duttonbooks and @penguinrandomhouse for sending me this copy of: CANYON DREAMS by michael powell (nonfiction) following the entire season of the chinle high school navajo basketball team in the sweeping desert of arizona + the real battle is in the boys’ impending choices about their future: the push & pull between the life, ways, and traditions of living on the reservation and the ‘outside’ world with its opportunities + a penetrating look at the players and their community, at their hardships, hopes, and dreams 🏀 “Nothing about a basketball season is easy. Neither is life.” 🏀 “I really want to show my younger siblings there is more to the world than the rez...I will miss it so much.” 🏀 instagram book reviews @brettlikesbooks

  23. 5 out of 5

    Karen Brodsky

    You don't have to be a basketball fan to love this book. Michael skillfully and honestly shares his deep respect and understanding of the Navajo nation and all that that encompasses. I spent many years living in Gallup, NM and as I read this beautiful, touching book I found myself swept back into that world of mystery and magic. Powell clearly has a feel and a fondness for these profoundly resilient and complex people. His descriptions of Canyon de Chelly, "rez ball" games and the gorgeous but You don't have to be a basketball fan to love this book. Michael skillfully and honestly shares his deep respect and understanding of the Navajo nation and all that that encompasses. I spent many years living in Gallup, NM and as I read this beautiful, touching book I found myself swept back into that world of mystery and magic. Powell clearly has a feel and a fondness for these profoundly resilient and complex people. His descriptions of Canyon de Chelly, "rez ball" games and the gorgeous but unforgiving landscape are perfect. I was sorry to come to the end of the book. I read a library copy but will be heading to my local bookstore shortly, it's a "must own".

  24. 4 out of 5

    Monica Bond-Lamberty

    I am torn between 4 and 5 stars. It was a very interesting, inspirational and informative read. Definitely exposed me to part of the country with which I am not familiar and a culture alien to me (rez ball). Was moved by the injustices of life on the reservation and the challenges facing these students in particular. Even the fact that the book skipped around from culture, to history, to religion, to sports, to politics worked. Perhaps it is the ending keeping me from the 5 but not sure. I highly I am torn between 4 and 5 stars. It was a very interesting, inspirational and informative read. Definitely exposed me to part of the country with which I am not familiar and a culture alien to me (rez ball). Was moved by the injustices of life on the reservation and the challenges facing these students in particular. Even the fact that the book skipped around from culture, to history, to religion, to sports, to politics worked. Perhaps it is the ending keeping me from the 5 but not sure. I highly recommend it in any event for a window into Navajo culture in Arizona

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike Ely

    A really interesting book about the Chinle basketball team, with a great insight into Navajo nation and all of the challenges facing modern day Native Americans. Powell did a good job weaving the stories about the players, coach, and families into the reporting on the basketball games. It's a really fascinating slice of society with a unique blend of history, poverty, loyalty, and community expectations. While I'm not a huge fan of Powell's writing style (easy on the commas Michael), the content A really interesting book about the Chinle basketball team, with a great insight into Navajo nation and all of the challenges facing modern day Native Americans. Powell did a good job weaving the stories about the players, coach, and families into the reporting on the basketball games. It's a really fascinating slice of society with a unique blend of history, poverty, loyalty, and community expectations. While I'm not a huge fan of Powell's writing style (easy on the commas Michael), the content stands strong and kept me engaged throughout the book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    There is so much to learn from this book. I was in awe of the perseverance shown by the kids, coaches, teachers, and family members. An example that sticks vividly in my mind is when a boy wrote his term paper on his cellphone because of the spotty electricity that made his laptop unreliable. Wow. Just living is a form of perseverance on the reservation when there is so much death and loss from the elements, alcohol, domestic violence, lack of basic resources like food, shelter, and medicine, or There is so much to learn from this book. I was in awe of the perseverance shown by the kids, coaches, teachers, and family members. An example that sticks vividly in my mind is when a boy wrote his term paper on his cellphone because of the spotty electricity that made his laptop unreliable. Wow. Just living is a form of perseverance on the reservation when there is so much death and loss from the elements, alcohol, domestic violence, lack of basic resources like food, shelter, and medicine, or any combination of these.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sheri S.

    3.5 - Canyon Dreams tells the story of the Chinle High School's boys varsity basketball team and its quest for a state title. The Chinle High School team is made up of boys from the Navajo nation and its members experience numerous challenges such as family alcoholism, lack of school attendance and poverty. The book educates the reader about the Navajo nation while also recounting an exciting basketball season during which Chinle exhibits superb basketball skills.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Flowergarden24

    This is a good look into what life is like for the Navajo people from this area of America. It isn't just about basketball and the usual inspiring story about winning a game. It is about accomplishments , trials, education, dreams and backgrounds . This isn't an exciting page turner but descriptions of the scenery are nice and it is good to know how others live and face way different lives than ones of privilege and opportunity.

  29. 5 out of 5

    David

    Touching, well written account of a basketball season in the Navajo Nation. Powell gets to know the coach, the players, the community. The season serves as the backbone for a study of Navajo life (amazingly challenging), teenage angst, adult ambitions, the fanatic devotion of the people to the land where they live. One ends up cheering for the players, admiring the coach, and wanting to visit this place to experience the attraction of the land. Powell’s done a nice job here.

  30. 4 out of 5

    B Jones

    Read the excellent Blood and Thunder two years ago, a large non-fiction book about the Navajo people and their displacement and eventual return to their homeland. This book would make a great companion piece to that one and covers much of what life is like in Navajo country today, seen through the lens of a single high school basketball season. I'd really like to attend one of these games in my lifetime.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.