Fiction · New Title Tuesday · Reader's Advisory

There There by Tommy Orange – New Title Tuesday

“I was in my 20s and also searching for meaning,” Tommy Orange, author of  There There, said in an interview with NPR’s Lynn Neary, “And I wasn’t a reader, so fiction was a super novel thing for me, and the novel itself was. And I just fell in love with it.”

This week’s New Title Tuesday selection,  There There, was a front-runner at BookExpo, the publishing industry’s annual conference, Neary said.  “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Really is That Good,” agreed the New York Times.

TherePublisher’s Summary:  Twelve Native Americans came to the Big Oakland Powwow for different reasons. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxedrene is pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and has come to work the powwow and to honor his uncle’s memory. Edwin Frank has come to find his true father. Bobby Big Medicine has come to drum the Grand Entry. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather; Orvil has taught himself Indian dance through YouTube videos, and he has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. Tony Loneman is a young Native American boy whose future seems destined to be as bleak as his past, and he has come to the Powwow with darker intentions–intentions that will destroy the lives of everyone in his path. Tommy Orange delivers a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. A multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about violence and recovery, hope and loss, identity and power, dislocation and communion, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people.

Tommy Orange was born and raised in Oakland, California. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He currently lives in Angels Camp, California.  Tommy is a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. There There is his first novel.

When I was teaching middle school history, I was stunned that none of my students were aware of the history and treatment of Native Americans by the colonists and later by the United States government. OK, I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and took not just one field trip to The Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, an aggressive proponent of the genocide of Native Americans.

With that said, There There is a dramatic read and a path to understanding the tragic results of marginalizing people.  The dehumanization of Native Americans in this country is recent – not just something from the distant past.  In the prologue, Orange explains the drawing of an Indian head that aired when TV stations signed off for the day.  “There was what looked like a bull’s-eye in the middle of the screen,”  Orange wrote.

At the time, this was acceptable because of movie westerns and the fact that tribes had been violently forced onto reservations.  But not all Native Americans disappeared or remained out-of-view.  They, as so many of us, ended up in urban areas seeking work, love, or family.

As Orange writes in the prologue, “We know the sound of the freeway better than we do rivers, the howl of distant trains better than wolf howls, we know the smell of gas and freshly wet concrete and burned rubber better than we do the smell of cedar or sage or even fry bread.”

Set in Oakland, California, Orange ties together the characters with varying degrees of  ethnic connection as they converge on a Powwow.  It’s known from the beginning that something bad will happen.

There There is a look at the consequences of denying and also of remembering one’s culture and heritage. As Maureen Corrigan said in her review for NPRThere There “is pithy and pointed. With a literary authority rare in a debut novel, it places Native American voices front and center before readers’ eyes.”

Happy reading, Susan C.

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