Last read of the year! And Orange packed quite a punch with There There. This story gives us a glimpse into what modern life is like for Native Americans in Oakland. And what happens when someone starts shooting during a powwow.
I wanted to diversify my reading list and had heard some really wonderful things about There There, so with just days to spare I picked it up. And I’ll be upfront with you, it wasn’t my favorite. I’ll also be upfront about that mainly being due to my stylistic preferences. The writing was good, and it gave some really beautiful insights into the Native American community in California, but it didn’t really have a plot.
Let me try to explain and do Orange justice. In There There, we follow, at my last count, 12 ‘main’ characters as they go about their lives until they get to the Big Oakland Powwow. That’s the plot, but it’s very loose. So instead, let’s talk about our 12.
They are a wide variety of people from a range of backgrounds. Adults who have struggled with drinking, abusive relationships, or finding purpose in life. Some don’t know who their family is, some know but don’t have relationships. There are young adults, teens, and kids. Some are more aimless, some are mixed up in illegal activities, one is trying to learn to dance for the powwow. The one thing they all have in common; the struggle of what it means to be a modern urban Indian. And if nothing else, Orange did an incredible job of showing us that there is no stereotype or standard. That you can’t put a whole people group in one box.
Unfortunately, a couple of these 12 are injured at the powwow when a couple of thugs open fire. We see that although everyone’s story is different, their lives are ultimately connected and what happens to one person rocks a whole community.
I wish there had been a few less main characters. Not because I didn’t like some of them, but because there were so many. We only got tiny snippets of everyone. I would have loved to learn more about them, dive deeper and discover more than their surface level selves. That also would have provided us with an opportunity to see some growth as well. We’re told about the growth of a few characters via their pasts, but because there’s so much to cram into the story we don’t get to witness any. For most of the book it felt like these were unconnected short stories. Which still would have been good for insight but left a little desired for characters or plot.
At the end of the novel, I’m not really sure how Orange wants me to feel. It was a beautiful story and very touching, but what next? What do I do, or how am I supposed to feel? I’m not sure. I know that some of that comes from a place of privilege. I’m white so I have the luxury of not dealing with many of these systematic oppressions. But then is there something I can do to help others? If you’ve been reading this blog long, you know that very rarely do I want to read about something just for the sake of having read it. I want a reason, a why, a bigger connection. Was Orange’s intention just to raise awareness? If that’s the case he was successful but I can’t help and wish for more.
Despite my issues, this was a well written story and I appreciated the perspective it shared. I totally recommend it.
And now. even though not a single person asked for it, here are my top 10 books of 2019! I surpassed my goal and read 54 books so it was tough to narrow it down!