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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The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

F511F697-6F50-4094-8953-629BD40E493AI grew up in Oakland, CA and had never heard about this story. It is a true one, from 2013, and it is pretty heartbreaking. If you have never heard about this book or this story here is a little more information for you.

One teenager in a skirt. 
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

This book was originally an article for The New York Times. I’m glad its was turned into a book. I’m glad this book exists. It is a Young Adult Non-Fiction book, a genre I had not been familiar with before reading this book. The book is mostly written in a straight forward journalistic style, but there are moments of poetry woven between the reporting. It allows for a little reflection and processing.

The 57 Bus does an amazing job of breaking down the different terms and pronouns to use for all gender and sexual identities. Sasha’s process is complicated and nuanced, and Slater really takes the time and care to present Sasha fully, without judgement. Sasha is presented as so many things at once, a complete and complex individual.

When it comes to Richard, Slater does a good job giving us the context of his life, however I do feel that there is not the same care paid to him. I don’t know if there should be, given the circumstances. I do feel she attempts to treat both teenagers as equal, both trying to navigate the world and move into adulthood. However the subtleties and complexities of being young, black, and male in a city like Oakland are not fully dealt with. Richard feel incomplete.

For example, when Slater attempts to explain how we arrived in a place where juveniles could be prosecuted as adults and receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, she spends a few pages discussing “super predators”. A racist term created in the 1990’s to scare people into thinking that young black youth would become more violent, which led to the stricter imprisonment laws. Then at the end of this section, Slater just says, “super predators” were a myth. And like that, she dismisses this idea she has spent time setting up. That is not adequate. Especially as this is a Young Adult book directed at audience that were not alive during the time of “super predator” fear and anxiety. A more equivocal dismantling of the myth was needed.

These small slights toward the black experience in this book left me a little frustrated. Knowing that many young adults are not fully versed in the racial politics that lead to the label of black youths as bad, in need of special education, and eventually to incarceration. More could be done to give the context of the systemic racism that black youth face.

I would certainly recommend this book. Its an interesting story, and a good reminder that we’ve got to teach our children better. I would suggest reading it with a critical eye. It would be especially powerful for young people with an interest in social justice.

Tell me what you thought of this book in the comments.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 17, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The 57 Bus on Amazon

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs in which we receive a small commission when products are purchased through some links on this website. This does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.