The Lesser Blessed, by Richard Van Camp (Douglas & McIntyre, 144 pages, $18.95 paper), is the first-person account of Larry Sole, a member of the Dogrib Indian tribe, who, after being sexually abused by his father, kills him in his sleep with a hammer and sets the house on fire. (The account in the Yellowknife newspaper reported that the contusions on the victim's head were a result of his falling down the stairs.) Larry is in the seventh grade when all this happens; when the novel opens he is in grade eleven, living with his mother, who is working hard to improve their lot in life by studying to be a teacher.
On the first day of school he notices a newcomer, a Métis named Johnny Beck. Johnny, with his tough-guy attitude, smart-ass remarks, and surly good looks, makes an immediate impression. Larry becomes Johnny's sidekick: "He was everything I wasn't. He was bad news but still.." This partnership leads Larry to a number of new and unexpected experiences, including standing by as Johnny dates Juliet Hope-the girl Larry himself loves.
Van Camp penetrates the lives of his characters with compassion and empathy, portraying an adolescent world that-at least in the consciousness of Larry Sole-transcends the fights, drugs, music, and sex that characterize the stereotypical high school experience. Despite their swaggering and false bravado, their pretence at indifference, Larry, Johnny, and Juliet are oddly moving, especially in their relationships with one another.