Date finished: January 28, 2019

Rating: ★★★★

There There, Tommy Orange

Debut author Tommy Orange presents a memorable story detailing many different characters’ experiences around and leading up to a singular event — a local powwow — that will affect all their lives. The Native American author sheds light on the experience of Natives living in cities (as opposed to on reservations), specifically Oakland, CA, where Orange grew up.

The multiple-points-of-view setup of this novel works well, and it exemplifies Orange’s power as a writer. It takes a few chapters to get into, but eventually the stories become entwined in delicious ways and the characters begin making subtle cameos in the others’ chapters. The Native experience is approached from many different angles in this way, and Orange succeeds in giving readers a glimpse into the lives of characters who have Native heritage (and are often members of specific tribes), but who weren’t necessarily raised with any knowledge of their tribe’s traditions or culture, one of whom, a young boy, relies on modern conveniences like TV and the internet to learn about his heritage:

“Orvil knew he wanted to dance the first time he saw a dancer on TV. He was twelve. It was November, so it was easy to find Indians on TV. Everyone else had gone to bed. He was flipping through channels when he found him. There on the screen, in full regalia, the dancer moved like gravity meant something different for him. It was like break dancing in a way, Orvil thought, but both new — even cool — and ancient-seeming. There was so much he’d missed, hadn’t been given. Hadn’t been told. In that moment, in front of the TV, he knew. He was a part of something. Something you could dance to.”

I don’t say this about a novel often, but I think There There could have benefitted from some additional length (thus the four-star rating). There are many characters, storylines, and points of view, and in some cases Orange does not go into the depth I would have loved to see from this work, especially in regards to Edwin and Blue’s relationships with their parents (and each other). Regardless, Orange is a promising new voice, and I’m interested to see what he offers next.

Photo courtesy @patrik_jsson (Instagram)

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