Friday, November 29, 2019

There There by Tommy Orange

Reviewed by Christy

            As they’re prepping for the Big Oakland Powwow in California, thirteen different Native Americans reflect on their lives, pasts, and the history of Natives as a whole.

There There is told from alternating, multigenerational perspectives, which in my opinion, isn’t an easy feat. Orange mostly pulls it off, though I did have to flip back a few times to refresh my memory on certain characters. However, I was never bored with certain viewpoints, and I didn’t think any of it dragged which is more important to me than whether or not I have to focus more to keep track. There’s teenage Orvil Red Feather who will be dancing for the first time after discovering old regalia in the closet and watching powwow footage on YouTube. His grandmother, Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, is raising him and his younger brothers but never talks much about their Native heritage. Because of this, Orvil is keeping his intention to dance a secret but, unsurprisingly, Opal knows all about it and intends to sneak in and watch him. Opal’s sister Jacquie Red Feather is coming to the powwow as well. Jacquie, a recovering addict and Orvil and his brothers’ true grandmother, has never met her grandsons but is starting to think maybe she is ready. Dene Oxendene will be at the powwow filming Native participants who want to tell a story, any story, into his camera. Those are just a few of the interesting characters we meet, and then there are a couple of men planning to go to the powwow for darker reasons.

            I really liked this novel, and I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone a little bit to read it. I enjoyed the slow little reveals of how some of the characters were connected, and the “intermissions” throughout that gave a little backstory on Native history in America. Opal and Jacquie, for example, were children during the Native occupation of Alcatraz in the early 70s which I had never heard of. To this day, thousands of indigenous people travel to Alcatraz to dance before sunrise to honor their ancestors on what is called Unthanksgiving Day. This book was enjoyable and sad and interesting all at the same time. I’m glad I got a little peak into a culture and history I knew nothing about.

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