Check It Out: There There

Feb 11, 2019

There There by Tommy Orange

This is Barb Gross with the Sioux City Public Library and you’re listening to Check it Out.  Today I’m recommending “There There,” a vivid and moving debut novel by Tommy Orange. It was included in best-of-2018 fiction lists from the New York Times, NPR, and Publisher’s Weekly, to mention a few.

“There There” is about Native Americans living in Oakland, California, what Orange calls “Urban Indians.” The author takes the individual stories of twelve characters and braids them, over and under each other, until all of the loose ends come together at the Big Oakland Powwow. Tony Loneman starts off the book with a candid discussion of his fetal alcohol syndrome. He calls it “the Drome.” Orvil Red Feather, a teenager, teaches himself Indian dances by watching YouTube videos so he can perform at the powwow. Edwin is in his thirties, still living with his white mother, and he’s never met his Native father. He will at the powwow.  

The most central characters in the book are Opal Bear Shield and her sister Jacquie Red Feather. As teenagers their mother takes them to the historic occupation of Alcatraz. There Jacquie becomes pregnant, eventually giving up her daughter for adoption. Jacquie later works as a substance abuse counselor struggling with her own addiction. She’s at a professional conference, only ten days sober, and she wants a drink. It’s one of the most powerful scenes in the book, and should be required reading for anyone who ponders the power of addiction.

Orange quotes James Baldwin in an epigraph: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” It’s true for all of the characters in the book. Perhaps Orange is describing the challenges faced not only by Native Americans, but also by America itself.

“There There” is our book club selection for March, so be sure to check it out now and join us March 4 for a lively discussion. “There There,” by Tommy Orange. Check out this title and other great works of fiction at the Sioux City Public Library.  

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Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.