National Book Award finalist Best book of 2018: Kirkus, Southern Living, and NPR Code Switch Reading the West Book Award winner Aspen Words Literary Prize longlist 2020 International Dublin Literary Award longlist
Set in rural Oklahoma during the late 1980s, Where the Dead Sit Talking is a startling, authentically voiced and lyrically written Native American coming-of-age story.
With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care. Literally and figuratively scarred by his mother’s years of substance abuse, Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface. At least until he meets seventeen-year-old Rosemary, a troubled artist who also lives with the family.
Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American background and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.
Dr. Brandon Hobson is an American writer. His novel, Where the Dead Sit Talking, was a finalist for the National Book Award. He is an assistant professor of creative writing at New Mexico State University and also teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma.
I am so very pleased that this beautifully crafted and empathetic novel has made the short list for the National Book Award!
This novel is simply told, but it isn't a simple story on any level. It's a devastating chronicle of a young person growing up in desperate circumstances. It's an indictment of a social system in which children have no chance to escape poverty and neglect. It's a story of what survival looks like when there is no chance of a happy ending.
The story is narrated by Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy whose single mother is in jail. He seems resilient at first. He describes his peripheral relationships with caregiving agencies, and reports his conversations with those adults in social work and foster care who take some responsibility for him, but in actuality he spends almost all of his time alone, and in desperate and dangerous circumstances.
It only gradually dawned on me as I read that Hobson is using simple diction and this almost easy-going narrative style to lure me into a very dark story of emotional torment and neglect. The tone isn't really easy-going at all: It's affectless, a reflection of a detachment that comes from mental turmoil. As the story progresses it becomes clear that Sequoyah's neglect and social isolation have left him unable to interpret relationships, or to recognize danger, or to understand or control his own emotional impulses. The story allows you to enter into the life of a person for whom every hope for a better future has been blocked by the neglect and lack of attentive love. To write such a story calls for attention and empathy and I'm very glad Hobson had the courage to write something so true.
Very atmospheric. The protagonist is interesting and dark and at times perplexing. There is a lot to admire here but overall the narrative feels too tightly controlled, too unrelenting. Well worth checking out.
Set in rural Oklahoma during the late 1980s, Where the Dead Sit Talking charts the rise and fall of a bond between two Native American teens, Rosemary and Sequoyah, who share the same foster home. The coming-of-age novel is told from the perspective of an older Sequoyah, who begins at the story's end, with Rosemary's death, and then jumps to the moment he first met his foster family. Much of the narrative focuses on Sequoyah's relationship with Rosemary, whom he alternately idealizes and vilifies. Sequoyah's obsession with his foster sibling is linked to his conflicted feelings about his gender identity, as well as his history of abuse, and his invasive tendencies and violent impulses recur throughout the novel's twenty-one chapters. The disturbing subject matter clashes with Hobson's stark, understated prose, which makes for a highly unsettling reading experience. While I thought much of the novel well written, Rosemary's death felt sensational and unnecessary.
Shortlisted for (and hopefully winning) the National Book Award 2018 This coming-of-age novel draws its power and intensity from the perfect portrayal of its protagonist Sequoyah, a 15-year-old Cherokee teen. When his mother is jailed for drug charges, he ends up in foster care and - as we learn on page one, so no spoiler here - sees his foster sibling Rosemary die. Hobson does a fantastic job portraying Sequoyah's troubled mind, and as the story is told from the point of view of an older Sequoyah looking back, thus confronting the reader with an unreliable narrator, the book gains even more depth.
Hobson grew up and now teaches literature and creative writing in Oklahoma, and his novel is set in a rural part of the state in 1989. In a way, Sequoyah's experiences are universal, as he struggles to find his own identity: "The fun thing about a teenage narrator is that teenagers are always going through a metamorphosis", as the author explains. At the same time, Sequoyah's difficult circumstances pose specific obstacles: With no rememberance of his father and growing up with a single mother who consumed all kinds of drugs, Sequoyah has trouble connecting to others and to himself, while at the same time longing to bond with the people around him.
"I was always easily influenced", Sequoyah recounts. He regularly suffers from excruciating headaches and has trouble to control his feelings, laughing in inappropriate situations (seemingly without bad intentions). The anger that is brewing inside him, instigated by the feeling of powerlessness with which he had to grow up, feels like it is trying to gain the upper hand: He wants Rosemary and her friend Nora "to become consumed by anger, consumed by something, but nothing happened", he is "stabbing the bread before devouring it", and when Sequoyah gets frustrated, he rips his drawings "to shreds, ripping and ripping, tearing them into tiny pieces". Also, he plays hunting games with his foster sibling George until George is "tired of dying".
Another source of insecurity is Sequoyah's gender identity: He wants to be like 17-year-old Rosemary, and his feelings towards her leave plenty of room for ambiguity. Rosemary is also important regarding his identity as a Native American: A member of the Kiowa tribe, Rosemary gives Sequoyah a copy of House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, a book about a young Native American torn between the traditional and the modern world.
While the name Sequoyah means sparrow (our protagonist who tells this story is named after the great teacher who developed the Cherokee language), the bird on the cover seems to be a hawk. In the novel, a ferruginous hawk is featured in a story-within-the-story, in which everyone tries to kill the bird of prey because it supposedly steals babies - a motif that, as the internet tells me, refers to the Cherokee legend of the Tlanuwa raptor. In the context of the story, the legend can assume all kinds of different interpretations, which is a central strength of the text: It is often hard to identify cause and effect, not because the story isn't well thought out (it is!), but because the past of the foster children has set in motion a dynamic of its own.
I liked that this book does not dwell on clichés: Sequoyah's foster parents and his case worker are well-meaning and try to do everything to support Sequoyah, Rosemary, and George (13, who deals with severe behavioral issues due to his past experiences). These grown-ups are trying their best to help those troubled teens, and the really unsettling question here is: Can they do enough? Hobson himself used to be a social worker, and his first-hand knowledge clearly informed his writing.
This book is moving, dark, and pulls a real punch. Brandon Hobson is clearly not yet famous enough considering what he can pull off. Let's change that.
Holy moly this is good. I loved this book not just as a writer—the lyricism is profound, the prose both eerie and elegant—but as a longtime foster parent and survivor of childhood trauma myself. It is so rare to find books that capture the truth of foster care. Hobson doesn't turns foster teens into yet another literary trope about bad seeds but instead digs deeply into what it is like to feel thrown away. I'm embarrassed I didn't read this fine novel earlier, and now count myself among Hobson's many fans.
Comments after rereading: I’ve now reread Where the Dead Sit Talking, with even greater enjoyment than from my first reading. I come away with more appreciation for Brandon Hobson’s abilities to breathe life into a story and its characters. Hobson retains nuance and subtlety by inviting the reader to infer key facts about Sequoyah especially, as well as Rosemary and George. Where the Dead Sit Talking is a rare novel that not only stands up to a rereading, but benefits from it.
Comments after first reading: It takes a gutsy novelist to give away the store on the first page. And it takes a skilled novelist to maintain the reader’s interest after giving away the store on the first page. In Where the Dead Sit Talking, Brandon Hobson proves himself both gutsy and skilled.
Here’s ”Sequoyah, meaning sparrow, after the great teacher who developed the Cherokee language”, giving away the store on page one: ”The period in my life of which I am about to tell involves a late night in the winter of 1989, when I was fifteen years old and a certain girl died in front of me. Her name was Rosemary Blackwell. It happened when she and I were living with a family in foster care, and though the details are complicated, I still think about her often. I’m alive and she’s dead.”
Hobson tells Where the Dead Sit Talking in Sequoyah’s first person voice. His voice is straightforward and convincing, entirely credible as an adult recounting his life as a fifteen-year-old. Although Hobson fills Where the Dead Sit Talking with Sequoyah’s voice, by its end we realize just how little we know and understand about him. Sequoyah talks a lot and reveals little. He’s less an unreliable narrator than an incomplete narrator.
What do we know about Sequoyah? We know that he’s a member of the Cherokee Nation, that his mother is imprisoned for dealing drugs, that his father left, ”packed up his jeep and headed west to find God.” We know that Sequoyah spent time in juvie, that he loves his mother, that he wears his hair long, puts on eye shadow, and has burn scars on his face. We know that Sequoyah seems excited by Rosemary’s death, that he ”expected to quickly become popular, part of the family with the dead girl. It would be on the local TV news, in the newspapers, talked about all over town. I was part of this family, this story.” Perhaps most important, again in Sequoyah’s words, we know that ”I have been unhappy for many years now.”
What don’t we know about Sequoyah? We don’t know why he’s been unhappy. We don’t know his sexuality. We don’t know why and how he’s attracted to Rosemary, other than Rosemary’s feeling that he’s ”’a lost soul from a thousand years ago who’s here to deliver something to me.’” We don’t know why he comes to feel that his remaining foster family ”had now become a part of me.” We don’t know exactly how Rosemary died. We don’t know why Sequoyah tells us, again on the first page, that ”I should tell you this is not a confession, nor is it a way to untangle the roots and find meaning. Rosemary is dead. People live and die. People kill themselves or they get killed. The rest of us live on, burdened by what is inescapable.” We don’t know why Sequoyah remembers with such unaccustomed specificity ”dumb Nora Drake, who later died on January 19, 2003, of strangulation.” Perhaps most important, we don’t know if Sequoyah has killed one or perhaps even two people.
Where the Dead Sit Talking holds within it many layers and many stories, all revolving around Sequoyah's desperately troubled life. There's the story of Sequoyah's father and his fleeing into religion; there's the story of Sequoyah's mother, her love for him, and her addiction and imprisonment; there's the story of Sequoyah's foster care; there's the story of his love for Rosemary, whatever that love may mean; there's the story of Sequoyah's identify as a member of the Cherokee nation. And then there's the core whodunit story of how Rosemary died: this reader concludes that Sequoyah doesn't know and that Brandon Hobson, with his remarkable and understated skill, doesn't want the reader to know. The directness of Hobson’s prose in Where the Dead Sit Talking belies the subtlety of his story-telling and its many mysteries. This is not a novel for readers who prefer clear answers to ambiguity. This is a novel to ponder after you’ve finished it, wondering what happened to Sequoyah, what Sequoyah actually did, and why he did it.
4.5 stars, a novel to remember and reread; now upgraded to 5 stars upon further reflection
1980's Oklahoma. At times, a rather dark tale, Where the Dead Sit Talking, is not for the faint of heart. Brandon Hobson's teenage character, Sequoyah, has been abandoned by his father, his mother is in prison, and he had been placed in foster care. Drugs, suicide, sexual awakening/identity are just some of the topics covered within these pages.
At times, I felt a bit unsure and disturbed by the unsettling thoughts that raged in Sequoyah 's mind. Even as I am now finished the story, I have this sickening feeling in my stomach. For now, I shall give it a 3 because this book had great characters and strong writing, but I don't feel that I personally enjoyed it.
Thanks to NetGalley for an advanced ebook in exchange for an honest review.
Apologies to valued friends who were stunned by this one but it didn't do it for me. There was more than a hint of promise unfulfilled.
The unsettling story of a teen Cherokee foster child with attachment disorder is interestingly structured and does have its merits. I liked the nonlinear way we learn of both past and present events, for example. The themes are very powerful (preoccupation with violence and death, prophetic dreams, the spirit world, obfuscation and lies). And I appreciate that the narrative is as uncertain and vague as life itself. But, despite some dramatic moments, it didn't seem that all that much had changed or been revealed from beginning to end.
“The everyday cultural world of the Cherokee includes spiritual beings. Even though the beings are different from people and animals, they are not considered ‘supernatural’, but are very much a part of the natural, real world. Most Cherokee at some point in their lives will relate having had an experience with these spiritual beings.” http://webtest2.cherokee.org/About-Th...
“A windigo is a supernatural being belonging to the spiritual traditions of Algonquian-speaking First Nations in North America. Windigos are described as powerful monsters that have a desire to kill and eat their victims. . . According to most Algonquian oral traditions, a windigo is a cannibalistic monster that preys on the weak and socially disconnected. In most versions of the legend, a human becomes a windigo after his or her spirit is corrupted by greed or weakened by extreme conditions . . . In other legends, humans become windigos when possessed by a prowling spirit during a moment of weakness.” From The Canadian Encyclopedia https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.c...
“‘You never listen,’ she said, and these were her final words. In the dimly-lit room I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or sobbing. A surge of anger struck me. It stopped me cold, seeing her standing there. I noticed the gun in her hand. Beyond that, I remember hearing a slight hum that seemed to vibrate from somewhere in the room. The vibration moved across the floor and entered me, my body, my mind. The vibration was its own malicious presence, some isolated entity that existed only in that moment. I knew I was not myself, and it felt stimulating and good. I was someone furious, someone hurt, someone blighted by infectious rage. A split second later I could not contain myself and sprang from the bed and placed my empty hand on her gun-gripping hand, my hand on her hand, and we held on, both confronting ourselves, both relentless.” From Where the Dead Sit Talking
* * * *
Sequoyah, a member of Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation and the unreliable narrator of Where the Dead Sit Talking, looks back to 1989 when he was 15 and witnessed the death of a 17-year-old girl. Hobson’s text can be annoyingly ambiguous at times, but a close, attentive reading suggests that Sequoyah had a role in her demise, which is depicted as a strange one: both a murder and a suicide—of a single person. The narrator provides a slippery account of the events leading up to the young woman’s death.
1989 is the year that Sequoyah is placed in foster care—after his alcoholic mother is imprisoned on drug-related charges. (Prior to this, the two had fled domestic abuse in Cherokee Country for a different type of instability in Tulsa, but the bad spirits followed them like smoke. Sequoyah’s addicted mother couldn’t keep a job, and her neglected son wandered the streets in the company of other lost boys and shady characters.) After stints in shelters and juvenile detention centres, the boy ultimately finds himself on the outskirts of Little Crow, near Black River in rural Oklahoma. He lives with Harold and Agnes Troutt and two other eccentric, troubled, and traumatized foster kids: Rosemary Blackwell (there’s a lot of black in this book) and 13-year-old George. Rosemary is a beautiful, artistic, and death-obsessed Kiowa girl, who may have been involved in prostitution and drugs, while George is a boy genius. He’s working on a novel about a society in decline, reads sophisticated religious and philosophical texts, and engages in charitable works.
Right from the start, Sequoyah is fascinated by the elusive Rosemary. It is not sexual attraction, but a mysterious, even mystical, twin-ship. Sequoyah does not desire Rosemary so much as want to be her. If he dies, he would like her to have his body. It is not clear if it is this wish to merge with Rosemary, his intense rage at her growing disinterest in him, or some other psychotic delusion that motivates him to place his hand on her gun-gripping one. Hobson seems to intimate that demonic possession could also explain Sequoyah’s disturbed behaviour. Although the Cherokee are not one of the Algonquian-speaking First Nations of North America, Hobson appears to be well acquainted with their spiritual traditions. Rosemary mentions the windigo in connection with Sequoyah’s father, and it seems as right a reading as any that the son has been transformed into one. He is weak—“easily influenced”, isolated, and socially disconnected enough to be vulnerable to this malevolent, mythical supernatural being. As the pages turn, the reader watches Sequoyah’s roommate, George (who is initially eager for friendship with the “feral kid in black jeans”) grow increasingly fearful in this older boy’s presence.
Sequoyah has noticeable facial scars. When asked about them, he says that they are the result of his drunken mother “accidentally” spilling hot grease on him. His insistence on this is enough to raise suspicion about how accidental the incident really was. Uncertain about his gender, Sequoyah regularly uses eyeliner and takes advantage of opportunities to wear Rosemary’s clothes. However, he seems to feel no sexual attraction to anyone, male or female, and he expertly evades the predatory men who accost him. Sequoyah does not lack self-awareness. He is conscious of an emotional flatness, a vacancy, a deadness inside. He says he is “damaged in spirit”. Hobson’s depiction of him put me in mind of psychologist John Bowlby’s classic studies of maladjusted, delinquent, and affectionless children with severe attachment disorders. Sequoyah’s mind frequently streams violent fantasies, and his involvement in Rosemary’s death appears to mark the beginning of his homicidal course. Two other young people in Rosemary’s orbit subsequently suffer violent deaths, and the reader has no reason to doubt that Sequoyah is responsible.
All of Hobson’s characters are disconnected and disturbed. All express a preference for being alone. The young are invariably fixated on death, but even Harold and Agnes, ostensibly loving and tolerant foster parents, have shadow sides. Harold is a bookie, whose father, a booklegger, was murdered. Agnes seethes with some mysterious rage at her husband. She may or may not belong to a local religious cult, whose female members wear their hair and clothes in distinctive styles. In the end, though, it’s hard to know for sure just how much of what Sequoyah reports can be relied on. Towards the end of the novel, he says that, like George, he has become a writer of stories, only his are about brainwashed killers and “mysterious deaths in a mythical Oklahoma town.” That’s a pretty good summing up of the novel Sequoyah appears in.
Where the Dead Sit Talking is unusual, dark, and dream-like. It is light on plot, heavy on atmosphere, and strangely mesmerizing. I think the book is a little too ambiguous to be entirely satisfying or successful. Having said that, I’ve found this to be a work that doesn’t easily let the reader go. I’m still thinking about it weeks after having turned the last page.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Obudziłam się o 5:11. Zaspana odszukałam telefon pod poduszką. Nieładny nawyk trzymania go zawsze blisko siebie. Ale muszę, muszę. Jak inaczej miałabym wystukać litery rozmazane przez wciąż mrużące się powieki? Jak miałabym złapać myśli wypełnione aż po najmniejszy skrawek tylko dwoma imionami: Sequoyah, Rosemary? Przecież muszę zapisać. Jak najszybciej. Zapisać, o czym śpiewa ptak trzepoczący się klatce tej powieści. - „Tam, gdzie rozmawiają umarli” - Nie zgrałyśmy się w czasie. Nie trafiłyśmy na moment, w którym czytałabym ją z największą przyjemnością. Jeszcze pół roku temu, wtedy tak. Teraz nie. Teraz fragmenty o śmierci sprawiały dyskomfort. I żałuję tego niezgrania. Ale! W żadnym wypadku nie żałuję lektury. - Jestem nią zafascynowana. I z wielką fascynacją rozgrzebuję nieustannie sytuację po sytuacji. Przyjmowałam bardzo łatwowiernie tę historię, śledziłam zdarzenia prowadzące do finału, który zostaje nam zdradzony już na pierwszej stronie. Rosemary umarła, a Sequoyah żyje. Skończyłam czytać i myślałam - dobra książka. Od początku do końca - dobra książka. A potem obróciłam ją w dłoniach i przeczytałam fragmenty opinii z tyłu okładki. Dopiero wtedy, w jednej chwili, dotarł do mnie geniusz tej powieści. - Opowiedziałam o niej mężowi, żeby poukładać sobie wszystko od nowa. Wygłosiłam z przejęciem monolog, jakiego jeszcze przy żadnej książce nie zdarzyło mi się wygłosić. Opowiadam o niej sobie aż do tej chwili. - Ta książka to tafla wody, do której ktoś ciagle wrzuca malutkie kamyki. Widzimy wszystko, ale lekko rozmazują nam się kontury. Miękko zacierają się granice. Zamykamy ją. Plum. Wpadł ostatni kamyczek. Coraz słabsze drgania rozchodzą się do brzegów. Dopiero wtedy, z każdą chwilą coraz wyraźniej, zaczynamy widzieć więcej. - Stoję wpatrzona w tę taflę od wczoraj. Mam szeroko otwarte oczy. Nie potrafię odwrócić wzroku. Jest spokojna i równa. Hipnotyzująca. Nerwowo szukam pod palcami chociaż jednego, najmniejszego kamyczka. Chociaż ziarenka piasku. - Nie ma. - Zaczytana Querida
Sequoyah, one-half Cherokee Indian, is somewhere in his tween years when he flees in an El Camino with his alcoholic mother to Tulsa to escape her abusive boyfriends. When he’s 11-years-old, the hot bacon grease on the spatula his mother waves around while she’s on the phone, badly burns his face and neck, scarring him inside as well as out. By the time he’s 14, he’s living in a shelter since his mother is in prison for three years for possession of drug paraphernalia and driving while intoxicated, repeat offenses.
Told from Sequoyah’s point of view, the writing is so psychologically understated that we are slayed by the impact on Sequoyah of being separated culturally as a Native American, by having an alcoholic mother in prison, by observing his mother be abused when he was young, by poverty, by the looks of horror people give him for the scars on his face, and by not having a permanent home. Looking back, we see Sequoyah’s method of survival is repression of his feelings. Not long after turning 15, he has the following realization:
The more I waited for her, the angrier I became. Soon enough I realized the less I thought about her, the better I felt.
Cutting off his feelings is his solution to his pain.
Soon after his realization, Sequoyah is placed in a foster home.
Sequoyah likes to be alone. He doesn’t have a lot to say. Everything seems okay. But there are sudden outbursts. Like when he pushes and hits a kid who calls him a faggot on the first day at his new school, sending the kid into a crouched fetal position. Where did all the anger come from we ask ourselves as readers.
Two other foster kids share the home. George, whom he suspects has some type of autism. And another Native American. A 17-year old girl named Rosemary. He instantly feels a connection with her. She tells him she dreamt of his arrival. She’s very spiritual it seems. Rosemary will change the trajectory of his young life.
Sequoyah feels as though he and Rosemary are twins. That he is one with her. He becomes obsessed with her.
Through Hobson’s clean, precise prose, we watch Sequoyah’s descent. His thoughts of violence. The thoughts are frightening. Mostly because they are a surprise. A minute ago he didn’t feel that way. Now these gory words are splashed all over the page. What happened? We’re tempted to write it off to a bad moment. Or a bad day. But it’s so much more than that. He doesn’t know who he is. He has no tribe. No parents. No friends. No home. He wears scars on the outside.
This novel feels so very real. Sadly, Sequoyah may represent disenfranchised Native American youth--probably much more than the best-selling There, There. Both novels show the tragedy of being Native American in the US. But Where the Dead Sit Talking is much more personal. Read them both and see what you think.
“Where The Dead Sit Talking” is a 2018 National Book Finalist and listed on many “top 2018” lists. Author Brandon Hobson explores the Native American Culture, particularly the Cherokee Nation culture in Oklahoma. His protagonist, Sequoyah is fifteen, and placed in the foster care system. His mother had reoccurring substance abuse issues which place him in a system he wanted no part.
Hobson has said he wanted to write about Native American identity, especially in adolescents who are trying to find their place in the world. He also wanted to educate and raise awareness of the number of innocent Native American children placed in the foster care system.
The story is told in retrospect; an adult Sequoyah reflecting upon an impactful year, when he was placed with the Troutt family. Already there is Rosemary, who is also Native American, and George, a sensitive and somewhat damaged boy. Sequoyah is entranced with Rosemary, not in a sexual way, but in an identity. It’s a dangerous attraction in that Rosemary suffers from depression. Sequoyah becomes obsessed with Rosemary, in all her nuisances. He almost wants to “be” Rosemary.
It’s an interesting read of the complex mind of a fifteen year old. He needs to fit in this family, in the town, and in his own skin. It’s a sad read of the foster care system and the problems in the system that are overlooked by society.
National Book Award Longlist 2018. Native American Hobson has written a dark tale about 15-year-old Sequoyah who is a ward of the state, as his mother is in prison on drug charges. After some time spent in institutional settings, and some in unsatisfactory foster care; he is placed in the home of Agnes and Harold Troutt. This couple is already fostering 13-year-old George and 17-year-old Rosemary. All three children have emotional damage: George has a number of quirky habits and sleepwalks; Rosemary has also spent time in institutions due to a suicide attempt; and Sequoyah is simply a lost soul.
Sequoyah doesn’t know who he is. He even seems to waiver when it comes to gender identification. He does not seem to be romantically attracted to either boys or girls. His face is disfigured from an oil burn, but then wears eyeliner that draws more attention to his appearance. He enjoys being alone, does not pay much attention in school, and even mutilates his hands while sitting at his desk in order to draw stares. Plus, he has weird dreams that simmer with violence.
Sequoyah is desperate to find meaning and is quickly attracted to the flamboyant personality of Rosemary. He follows her everywhere and assumes that they are becoming good friends. But Rosemary is not able to sustain the demands of friendship—she is too self-destructive. Sequoyah eventually reaches back into his Native American heritage to find his spirit and some roots—because without roots, it is impossible to grow.
Checking another book from the NBA longlist off my list with this novel about a Native American boy adrift in the foster care system. With his mother in prison and his father missing, he finally makes his way to a caring foster family that includes two other troubled teens. The book begins by telling us that his foster sister is dead and then reviews their relationship. Throughout, the voice is calm, but there is a rage and trauma underneath that the narrator tries to tamp down. It occasionally comes out when he thinks of hurting others and with his problems with headaches and vomiting. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel enough of that suppressed rage and the occasions when he made off-handed comments about shooting someone just seemed sensational. I would have liked more recognition on the part of the narrator that he was working hard to keep himself from losing control.
I know this review is going to be weird, but I am not sure why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. I couldn't put it down. The language was so simple, but the emotional depth so outsized.
The story itself is straightforward. Sequoyah is in a foster home while his mother is imprisoned. Unlike many novels, the foster parents, Harold and Agnes are kind (albeit a bit flawed) people who are raising two other foster children, George and Rosemary, along with Sequoyah. The oldest child, Rosemary, is the foil for Sequoyah's story, and it is through his relationship to her that we learn the most about him, although he is the sole narrator.
It's hard not to empathize with Sequoyah who has the kind of exterior toughness that one might expect from a teenager who has been through a lot of trauma, but in Sequoyah's case his interior life seems elusive, deadened, and confused. This book is realistic fiction at it's finest, but it's 99% character development and 1% plot, so be forewarned. But there is this eerie, scary feeling that pervades, and the reader isn't quite sure where it is coming from until the end, when it all becomes tragically clear.
Jedna z pierwszych w tym roku książek, które odłożyłem na półkę dla "kandydatów i kandydatek do rocznych podsumowań". Każdemu jego półki - ja mam osobne na "tegoroczne nagrody", bo to trzeba częściej fotografować, książki roku, Stambuł, historię elgiebetów, książki przy których pracowałem i dzienniki Romera i Woroszylskiego. Ale nie o moich półkach miało być. To jest bardzo sprytnie napisana książka, bo pozornie mamy do czynienia z obyczajówką o dojrzewaniu i poczuciu wyobcowania, co jest zupełnie nieodkrywcze i przewidywalne aż do bólu, ale Hobson napisał też inną powieść, dużo bardziej drażniącą i trudniejszą. Trochę horror, trochę obyczajówka, miejscami thriller. Nie będziecie po tym spać najlepiej, ale to jest naprawdę świetna literatura. --- Udało się Brandonowi Hobsonowi napisać książkę, która niepokoi i drażni, wciąga i przeraża, ale zostawia czytelnika z wieloma pytaniami, niejasnymi obrazami i wątpliwościami. Bo może to wszystko, co przeczytaliśmy, nie jest opowieścią o tym, co nam się wydawało, że czytamy? Głównym bohaterem “Tam, gdzie rozmawiają umarli” (tłum. Jarek Westermark) jest Sequoyah, piętnastoletni chłopak pochodzący z plemienia Czirokezów, którego matka siedzi w więzieniu, a ten przerzucany jest między rodzinami zastępczymi, a ośrodkiem dla nieletnich, do którego trafia gdy coś zbroi. Gdy trafia do rodziny Agnes i Harolda, wydaje się że będzie to kolejna powieść o zbuntowanym nastolatku, któremu nierówności społeczne przetrącą życie. Ot, klasyczna opowieść o rasizmie i przemocy, doprawiona moralitetem. I chwilami taka jest, na szczęście w uzasadnionych dawkach. W nowym domu zastępczym na naszego bohatera czekają młodszy od niego, milczący i lękowy George, oraz starsza, utalentowana plastycznie Rosemary. Hobson skupi się na relacji między młodymi bohaterami, co ułatwi sobie robiąc z Agnes i Harolda osoby schorowane, niezbyt skore do opuszczania swojego własnego świata, a co najważniejsze - palące, dzięki czemu młodzież może jarać dowoli. Wyczyszczenie przedpola pozwala autorowi na opowiedzenie o pogmatwanej relacji, która powstaje między młodymi ludźmi - próby braterskiej przyjaźni z Georgem i podziwem połączonym z erotyczną fascynacją, którą wzbudza u głównego bohatera Rosemary. I choć jest to też opowieść o szkole i przemocy w niej, to dużo więcej uwagi autor poświęca dorosłym, którzy pojawiają się często nagle, jakby przypadkowo - Sequoyah trafia nagle do jakiegoś mieszkania, gdzie pali trawę, innym razem próbuje go uwieść starsza kobieta, a kiedy indziej znajduje się w psychodelicznym domu dorosłego faceta pełnym… dzieci. Czyich? Do tego opowieści o orgiach, w których biorą udział nastolatkowie, które chętnie wkładamy w przegródkę “fantazje” i rozmowy o swingersach, do których na imprezę mają pójść Agnes i Harold. Coś niepokojącego, mocno seksualnego, kryje się pod skórą tej opowieści i autor jak w horrorze podsuwa nam kolejne obrazy, które dopiero w finale zaczną się - choć nienachalnie - łączyć w coś przerażającego. Ciekawie Hobson rozgrywa też kwestie rasowe - przez większość książki wydają się one nieistotne, mimo że definiują całe życie jej bohaterów. Celowe ich pomijanie, nieopisywanie koloru skóry, czy innych wyznaczników, jak i tylko miejscami sygnalizowanie, że ktoś zdecydował się żyć poza rezerwatem, albo w rozmowie nawiązuje do legend rdzennych mieszkańców Ameryki, sprawia że nie czytamy obyczajowej powieści interwencyjnej, ale sami musimy zbudować sobie świat, w którym znalazł się Sequoyah. No i my, czytelnicy. Co jest prawdą, a co jest zmyśleniem? A gdyby przyjąć, że główny bohater w ogóle nie istnieje? Podczas lektury “Tam gdzie rozmawiają umarli” przychodziły mi do głowy bardzo różne pomysły interpretacji tej książki, czułem, że autor gra ze mną, odwraca mój czytelniczy wzrok, uspokaja mój oddech, by za chwilę wyprowadzić mnie z równowagi. Bardzo to wszystko udane i zawdzięczam Hobsonowi mocno nieprzespaną noc. Na to, co niepokojące, składa się kilka elementów. Kim jest narrator? Nie jest to już przecież młody Sequoyah, a dorosły mężczyzna, który potrafi dokonać analizy tego, co robi. Pisze: “Kiedy teraz o tym myślę, widzę, że przede wszystkim pragnąłem być lubiany. Akceptowany”. Mimo tej analizy, narrator nie zawsze potrafi spojrzeć na swoją młodość z boku, niekiedy jakby sam nie wiedział, co pamięta i co było prawdą, a co tylko zmyśleniem. Śledzenie Rosemary, rozmowy o śmierci, sadomasochizmie, uszkadzaniu się, w końcu fascynacja samą możliwościa zabijania - wszystko to trochę brzmi jak z powieści o trudnej młodzieży i ich rozkminach o świecie, ale tutaj wydaje się być czymś więcej, może skargą, ale może też jednak wspomnieniem nostalgicznym? Coś jest w tej powieści, coś co nie pozwoli wam jej odłożyć i sprawi, że zarwiecie noc, że dzień będzie mniej przyjemny, choć przecież upłynie na lekturze. Hobson napisał książkę naprawdę niezwykłą, korzystającą z klisz thrillera, horroru i klasycznej powieści o dojrzewaniu, ale tak skomponowaną, że cały czas ma się wrażenie, że jest o czymś jeszcze. I nawet gdy już wydaje nam się, że wiemy o czym, to pojawiają się nowe pytania. A to jest wielki w literaturze wyczyn.
This is another read from the National Book Award finalist list. I felt like the life of Sequoyah, a teenaged foster boy, is well represented in how he views the world and interacts with others. The pacing of the book didn't work as well for me, as it tends to race through really important moments. There is a lot of violence alongside what I might call disassociation, which seems about right.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy through NetGalley.
Sequoyah is a teenager moving through the foster care system after his mother is sent to prison. Hobson writes so beautifully of the emotional, and even physical, toll their unstable upbringings have on Sequoyah, and the other two foster children in the home, Rosemary and George. It is never simply anger, or fear, or sadness, or loneliness, it is all of these feelings at once. Along with love, and relief, and guilt, and pride, and confusion, and well…everything. These are characters I will not soon forget.
I was so excited to read it because of my shared Native American heritage with the MC and the author, but I was honestly disappointed. It felt like there were random thoughts and events just thrown in that really didn't add to the story, but were shocking. I almost bailed a few times, but I kept hoping it would tie together in the end, but unfortunately it didn't. I see really high ratings on this book, so maybe it's just me and I hope others enjoy it more than me.
Hobson has a fresh way of viewing the world and in this instance through the eyes of a teenage foster child, Sequoyah, who has just joined his latest family. He becomes enamoured of an older resident in his new home who also is Native American and they bound in a heartwarming yet also twisted kind of way...kind of how many teenage relationships are formed. Though their foster parents are odd as well they’re not bad people and seem sincerely trying to care for the three kids, which includes a preteen genius wanna be boy, they’ve been given.
Hobson explores imperfection that’s coupled with good intentions and uniqueness that can be great though painful for the individuals. He also looks at choices within constrained environments. Sequoyah and his thrown together family seem always to be one bad choice away from catastrophe which makes the book compelling but the characters, especially Sequoyah, are equally interesting because they’re so likable despite or partly because of their weaknesses.
Thank you to the publisher for providing an advance reader’s copy.
Najbardziej podobała mi się narracja tej powieści. Intymna, przejmująca, wprowadzająca czytelnika w samotność, jakiej doświadczał Sequoyah w realiach, gdy odbieganie od przyjętych norm generuje ogromny ostracyzm społeczny.
Hobson does an amazing job of immersing readers into a hauntingly familiar reality for far too many teens through the retrospective treatment of an adult who survived it all (something that is wholeheartedly needed and long overdue). This story is filled with fantastical asides that busy the minds of teens as well as the most entertaining adults. However, if you pay attention, you'll see Hobson doesn't simply do this to fill pages, he is a craftsman who knows how to build a scaffolded narrative sure to keep the reader turning to the next page--over and again. The payoff is as unexpected as the twists and turns the narrator leads readers through. Buy this book today.
Where the Dead Sit Talking is a painful read, a book filled with profound suffering, beautifully told. Sequoyah’s life is filled with anguish: a mother incapable of looking after him, a foster sister kindred soul who feels she must end her life. Brandon Hobson’s poetic style enables the reader to care deeply about his characters. In spite of the multi-layered story being told by an unreliable narrator, it remains gripping throughout. A triumph!
Haunting, beautifully written novel that crept under my skin and still won't let go. Sequoyah is a compelling narrator, by turns terse and lyrical, sympathetic and difficult. Hobson's vision is compassionate and all-embracing, which means embracing darkness as much as light.
This is a wonderfully written story that kept me up late, unwilling to put the book down. The narrator's voice is perfect. The story manages somehow to be simultaneously tender and ominous. The characters are compelling and believable.
Sequoyah is a fifteen-year-old of Cherokee heritage living in Oklahoma. He is placed in foster care due to his mother’s imprisonment on drug charges. His foster parents are currently fostering Rosemary (17) and George (13). As the book opens, Sequoyah states he has witnessed the death of Rosemary, and then narrates how it transpired. Both Rosemary (of Kiowa heritage) and Charles (smart but socially awkward) have their own issues stemming from traumas. Agnes and Harold are well meaning but they are not able to handle three teens with significant emotional issues. Sequoyah develops a near obsession with Rosemary and is also exploring his gender identity.
The book is told in fragments. Little happens for much of the novel, other than everyday life, such as going to a movie or the dentist or playing a game. It is not what I would call a story and part of what I look for in my reading is great storytelling. It is more of a psychological study of a troubled teen, where he is often confused, obsessed with death, and thinking violent thoughts. Sequoyah is an unreliable narrator, and his recounting of events implies dark undercurrents, but it all seems very ambiguous. I have read one other book by Hobson, and I was not overly enthused by it, either. I think this is a case where the author’s style does not match my personal taste.
In reading through the responses to Where the Dead Sit Talking, it is not surprising that some who read this are sickened by the brutality that Youth of Color who are members of First Nations have been exposed to in the Oklahoma State foster care system. The racist and callous treatment is a societal trait encountered by many and what I call abominable. Look at the treatment of Oklahoma teachers who are striking for a living wage so they can pay for their rent or mortgage. The legislature saw a need to give themselves a living raise for their own wages and benefits but not teachers for over 10 years. The citizens are not bothered with paying for the legislators' bill raise but think the teachers with masters should stoop to taking on 2 additional outside jobs to make ends meet.
Another author from Oklahoma speaks of these issues, Alton Carter, in his biography The Boy Who Carried Bricks. He is black American and was in foster care in the state from age 11 to 18. He ran away from close to 28 different homes before his 12th-grade year. He almost ran from this last of 28 foster families, but he would have delayed his HS graduation and no one in his family for the 3 generations he knew, had ever graduated from high school. So he had to put up with the family dog which they named "n!qq3r".
Can you imagine living as a foster-person of color in a foster-home that was approved by a state that had a relaxed foster care policy so much so that the family dog's name was "n-word?" I find it insane. That was the Oklahoma of Brandon Hobson's book, a state that historically burnt a functioning all-black segregated section of Tulsa to. the. ground. hanging and burning residents because a white female cried the trope-call of rape. to the void of retribution by authorities as a result.
The dysfunctional situations Syquoyah was in with Harold Trout was no different, for Trout was a foster-care parent and a bookie and his family were known bootleggers. So, this was an inadequate condition that yet another own-voice author has echoed the lack of concern and responsibility shown by the state of Oklahoma in its foster care towards their most vulnerable populations of foster children.
Because of Alton Carter's memoir, changes began to occur. This is Alton's blog that addresses how his book became a change element in the foster care system.
With First Nations in Oklahoma, as everywhere with marginalized and underrepresented, none of their cultures are viewed as relevant by the dominant society. And what is specific for First Nations is the land they know history says is their birthright is not acknowledged by this same dominant culture as theirs'. They are made to feel insignificant and unwanted in a land they are Indigenous to, and even when an agreement is arrived at, it has ALWAYS been broken. This deliverable has created a case of mistrust and low and destructive self-esteem which can lead to the addictive habits and dependency observed in Sequoyah's mother who eventually loses so many jobs she no longer can find any legit ones and therefore turns to illegal drug trade which lands her in jail on the extreme interpretations of the law for drug sales during the 80s when the booking is set.
With Sequoyah growing up in such an environment which resulted in his mother's long-term arrest, it should not be surprising that he is surrounded by adults who used to be youth who are just as fragile if not more fragile than he is. It should be of no surprise that the youth he is assigned to live with, in the group home, are emerged in subversive behavior, resulting in so many of them trying to self-medicate through drugs, sex, and alternative spiritual trists that are not in alignment with healthy development; and that these efforts lead them eventually towards a meltdown that can be fatal for some.
Although at times this realistic fiction becomes psychological, if not downright macabre when the reader is introduced to the physical, mental and emotional conditionals members of Sequoyah's community live under and struggle to survive through. Hobson's title represents an own-voice cultural group that has often been silenced but is finally given a chance to be heard. A silenced voice that's given a platform to speak can often come out kicking. I say let it come. Let it kick.