There There by Tommy Orange

17FDFE76-5F92-4255-8527-79ED037331A5Last week the National Book Award longlists came out, and There There made the cut. I already owned the book and had heard good things, but hadn’t actually taken the time prioritize it on my reading schedule. Then the list came out, and just like with Oscar nominees I felt like I just had to read the book so I could weigh in on all the conversations.

Here is more about this book

As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow—some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent—momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and will to perform in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and loss.

This book is a fantastic work of storytelling, which makes sense because so much of the book is centered on the power of sharing one’s story. This theme of storytelling is woven throughout the book beautifully. In There There we meet characters who tell us their stories, and each character is different and well written and important to the narrative. So often in books that weave many perspectives together, there are characters that are flushed out and imperative to the action, and then other people who exists more for function (i.e. to have a different point of view or progress the plot), not here. Orange does a fantastic job of giving each character autonomy and purpose. His characters are not pure. They are full people both good and bad, pathetic and proud, complex and relatable. Human.

There There centers on Native voices. Not just Native Americans, but modern Native Americans living in a major urban landscape. This is not a story of a reservation or the wild wild west. The setting, Oakland, California gives the book a strong place and identity but also allows for movement and isolation and independence for the characters. We get to see the connectedness of the community, and how the characters cross paths in ways that feel both organic and truthful. I’m from Oakland, and I loved the way Orange talks about the neighborhoods and landmarks, it made me appreciate where I’m from a little more.

I’ve never read a book about Natives in a major cosmopolitan city and that alone made the book fell fresh and exciting and special. I can’t speak much to the authenticity of Orange’s depictions, I can say that I appreciated what I learned about the Native experience in Oakland. The characters in There There are dynamic and delightful, deeply pained and wildly hopeful. You’ll have your favorites for your own reasons. You won’t be able to help yourself. Orange never settles into any one feeling or moment for too long, giving his humans room to evolve as the book progresses.

I really loved this book. The pacing, the plot, and the suspense, are all so well done. Orange is able to tap into so much humanity while still driving a plot forward. I often find books are either all about characters or all about plot, and this book melds the two beautifully. I think this is a wonderful (and quick) read. It is Orange’s debut, I am so looking forward to see what comes next from this creative talent.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 5, 2018)
  • 5/5 stars
  • Buy There There on Amazon

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