<B>The pain of a boy's final days</B> Native American author Nasdijj delivers an unforgettable memoir with <B>The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping</B>, a chronicle of the death of his adopted son, a 12-year-old Navajo born with AIDS. Nasdijj, whose first son, also adopted, died of fetal alcohol syndrome, is persuaded to adopt Awee by the boy's parents, also AIDS patients. Against his better judgment, Nasdijj agrees. Taking on hopeless boys is something of an addiction with him, he admits.
"I want the mad ones," Nasdijj writes. "The children who have had everything taken away from them. The children who are broken and mad enough to attempt to repair themselves. The children mad enough to spit and fight."Nasdijj makes some unorthodox decisions about how Awee should spend his last weeks of life, choices he suspects minivan moms would not approve of. Instead of hunkering down in a hospital or hospice, with pill bottles and intravenous drip close at hand, Nasdijj takes his son on a motorcycle to the coast, lets him play baseball, lets him spend the day in an auto repair shop and introduces him to several Indian rites of passage. Along the way, Nasdijj exposes the failure of America's health care system to provide relief for indigent AIDS patients, especially those on Indian reservations, where welfare hospitals may take as long as six weeks to return blood test results. Awee is frequently in and out of the hospital with pneumonia, with terrible pain from nerve damage, with sarcoma. The most scathing criticism Nasdijj offers is the health care industry's failure to relieve a 12-year-old's pain. Here, Nasdijj runs up against a medical brick wall. Pain medications for children with AIDS haven't been developed, he writes, and doctors are unwilling to experiment. Despite the prevailing darkness and forgone conclusion of <B>The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping</B>, the book has wonderful moments of humor, whimsy and warmth. But the narrative's most important accomplishment may very well be its biting commentary on the neglect of AIDS patients in a complacent society that mistakenly believes the monster has been leashed. <I>Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.</I>