On Halloween, Junior and Penelope both arrive at school dressed as homeless people—an easy costume for Junior, he notes, since his clothes are in poor condition anyway. They compliment each other’s costumes (“You look really homeless,” says Penelope) and Penelope says that her costume is a political statement. Instead of trick-or-treating, she will be collecting spare change for charity. Junior offers to help with Penelope’s project and goes trick-or-treating for spare change on the rez.
Penelope and Junior arrive at the same costume from opposite directions. It’s a mark of Penelope’s privilege that she can choose to dress as a homeless person to collect money for charity. Her well-meaning compliment is ironically insensitive given Junior’s poverty, but luckily he doesn’t seem to mind.
While plenty of people give Junior spare change and candy, and some compliment his bravery in going to the white school, many more of his neighbors slam the door on him and call him names. On his way home, Junior is jumped by a group of guys in Frankenstein masks, who kick him, spit on him, and take his candy and money. He knows that they aren’t trying to hurt him too badly, but simply to remind him that he is a traitor.
Besides Rowdy’s rejection, this is the first real evidence of the way Junior has been “banished” from the tribe for daring to leave the rez. His attackers’ revenge is calculated to be particularly demeaning. It’s less about taking away what Junior has than asserting that he is worthless to begin with.
Although Junior had felt “almost honorable” as a poor kid raising money to help other poor people, the experience makes him feel stupid and naïve, and he knows he would not have been jumped if he had been with Rowdy. He wonders whether one of the guys could have been Rowdy, but refuses to believe it.
Since poverty only teaches you how to be defeated, the chance to help other people in a worse situation is empowering for Junior. Meanwhile, his trust that Rowdy still wouldn’t hurt him shows the strength of their relationship, even while they are practically enemies.
At school, Junior tells a shocked and concerned Penelope what happened. She sympathizes (even touching his bruises, to Junior’s amazement) and promises to put his name on her donation anyway. They share a moment when, as Penelope is walking away, Junior asks her, “It feels good to help people, doesn’t it?” Penelope agrees.
Penelope and Junior’s moment of sympathy is another step toward a sense of belonging for Junior, as well as a dream come true. The fact that it happens because they try to help people together fits in well with the message of caring, inclusion, and forgiveness—not just for people’s actions, but more broadly for their existing handicaps—expressed by characters like Junior’s Grandmother.
Still, Junior and Penelope don’t say much to each other. Junior wishes he could ask Rowdy for advice about how to win over a beautiful white girl. At the same time, he imagines what Rowdy would say—that he would need to change everything about himself to have a chance.
Rowdy’s hypothetical advice says that Junior can’t possibly have a chance with Penelope, because he cannot change who he is and who he is isn’t good enough. At this point in the novel, Junior (like Rowdy) has a very static and limited view of his identity and his prospects. Changing himself to achieve his dreams still doesn’t seem conceivable. Junior’s interpretation of what Rowdy would say also suggests that his close identification with Rowdy may have held him back, since Rowdy doesn’t seem to believe in Junior or encourage him at all.