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There There

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Tommy Orange's wondrous and shattering novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Among them is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. Dene Oxendene, pulling his life together after his uncle's death and working at the powwow to honor his memory. Fourteen-year-old Orvil, coming to perform traditional dance for the very first time. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American--grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism. Hailed as an instant classic, There There is at once poignant and unflinching, utterly contemporary and truly unforgettable.

294 pages, Hardcover

First published June 5, 2018

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About the author

Tommy Orange

16 books2,828 followers
Tommy Orange is a recent graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Oakland, California, and currently lives in Angels Camp, California.

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5 stars
52,474 (31%)
4 stars
71,839 (42%)
3 stars
34,014 (20%)
2 stars
7,477 (4%)
1 star
2,095 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 19,626 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
November 14, 2018
"Don't ever let anyone tell you what being Indian means. Too many of us died to get just a little bit of us here, right now, right in this kitchen."

Orange's ambitious debut captures the experience of modern "urban Indians" through constantly shifting third person perspectives, ultimately showing that Native Americans are not a monolith, not a stereotype, not united under a single identity.

The author takes a number of risks, and yet they all work to create a book of such extreme power that it's hard to come away from it unchanged.

There There is much-needed and important, but I kind of hate saying that. There seems to be some underlying implication in those words that the book has been hyped due to it's sociopolitical importance, and that's just not the case. Orange's characters are vivid and complex. He has somehow written a book where every chapter is from a different point of view and yet every single character's voice is unique and engaging.

The characters and stories here are not the stereotypes most non-native Americans are familiar with. It's not about reservations or the old stories, but about the struggles of modern Indians in the inner cities. Struggles with identity, community, substance addictions and poverty. It is so easy to think of Native Americans as a stereotype, as a cartoon character with feathers in their hair, but of course, the truth is so much more complicated.

It is difficult to survive in a modern society that has been defined by white Europeans, whilst also trying to maintain something of the culture that those white Europeans worked to erase. Through personalities that come to life on the page, Orange explores the many facets of being Native American today. From Jacquie Red Feather, whose existence is a constant battle against alcoholism, to the mixed race Edwin Black who has never met his Native father.

What is noticeable about There There is how this thoughtful literary novel is extremely accessible. The author's writing is a pleasure to read-- compelling, conversational, but no less powerful because of it.

Orange sets these stories of everyday people and lives alongside his own voice in the harrowing prologue and interlude. He takes these brief moments to write about the history of Native Americans - how treaties became murder and betrayal - and provide information about the Native culture, such as the details of pow wows. I somewhat knew the history already and yet a reminder can be a valuable thing; listening to this man of Native descent describe how his ancestors were tricked and brutally murdered is a chilling experience, and one all non-natives should have.

A brutal, insightful novel, with a sea of memorable characters. Each one very different, and yet all connected.

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Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
November 4, 2018
This is an ambitious novel told in stories about different Indians in Oakland whose lives converge at a Pow Wow. It took me a long time to get into the novel. When the threads start to come together the novel picks up. There is some great writing throughout. But still... something is missing here. Something isn’t quite working for me. But the ambition and the last lines do a lot to elevate this. Look forward to seeing more from the author.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews588 followers
October 23, 2019
Update: I’m very happy to learn that Tommy Orange won the PEN/Hemingway award!!!
Congrats!!!n”There There” is an outstanding novel.

Update: Terrific pick!!!! 2018 National Book Award Longlist.... Fiction!!

5+++++ stars!!!!! Absolutely phenomenal!!!!!
“There There” is a non-stop pace story... COULD NOT PUT THIS DOWN....
The stories in here are gut wrenching *intimate* about dislocation-identify-violence -loss-hope-and power.
“We have been defined by everyone else and continue to be slandered despite easy-to-look-up-Internet-facts about realities of our histories and current state as a people”.

The despair and beauty in Tommy Orange’s debut novel entwined the history of a nation and indigenous community in Oakland, Calif.
Incredible characters.
Dialogue with feelings.

Warmth, pride, sediments for Oakland-raised Tommy Orange!
Congratulations to him!!!
He knocked the ball out of the park with this outstanding novel!!!!
Profile Image for Liz.
2,138 reviews2,751 followers
February 6, 2019

I have no idea how to rate this book. Things about it enthralled me and other parts just fell flat. This book started off so strong. The writing in the prologue just grabbed me. I was convinced I was going to love the book. But once the chapters begin, I started to have problems.

You are introduced to 12 characters, each given their own chapter, and initially, I thought the book was a series of short stories. I think the sheer number of “main characters” and all their various stories and viewpoints was a large part of my problem. You’re half way through the book before any of them begin to interact. Also, there are timing differences which don’t get explained or even alluded to in chapter headings. It soon becomes clear that the timing is different, but it just added to my aggravation. Was I expected to have known the takeover of Alcatraz by the Indians was in 1969?

I understood what the author was attempting and that a large number of characters was needed to truly show the variety of the urban Indian experience. And he covers all the ugly aspects - the alcoholism and fetal alcohol syndrome, the drugs, the loss of parents, raising your “grandchildren”. He also does a great job of discussing the feeling of “otherness” and trying to find your history or your culture.

One thing this book has made me realize is that while great writing and interesting characters are important, story is key to my enjoyment of a book.

I read this for my book club and I’m really curious to see how the others enjoyed this and what kind of discussion it generates.

In the end, I’m wimping out and assigning this 3.5 stars, rounding down not up.

Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 256 books408k followers
August 22, 2018
Tommy Orange's debut novel is already getting a lot of love, but I have to chime in with my praise, too. For one thing, There, There is set in Oakland, where I lived for most of the 90s, and reading it brought back a lot of memories. The author hits us with a buckshot blast of wonderful characters, self-described "Urban Indians," each with his/her own short, interwoven chapters. We follow their interconnected lives as they prepare for the first Big Oakland Pow Wow. They are drawn there for many different reasons -- to reconnect, to make money, to dance, to record stories. Unfortunately, a few of them are planning to rob the Pow Wow. Orange provides deft, beautifully crafted portraits of their lives, so by the time the hold-up come and (SPOILER) the heist does not go as planned, we care about how all of them will fare. The ending is perfect -- unfinished, jagged with emotion, and yet still full of perseverance and hope. I won't say this read was 'easy.' It packs an emotional wallop. But the pages fly by, thanks to the short chapters and varying points of view.
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
December 1, 2020
A solid debut with a surprising climax. As someone who grew up in the Bay Area, I was pleasantly surprised to see all the characters living in Oakland and enjoyed viewing the city through their eyes. This made things closer to home (literally) for me when exploring themes of identity and displacement for modern Indigenous people in the inner cities. While I liked seeing the 12 characters’ stories intertwined with one another and the breadth of sensitive issues like rape, addiction, suicide, domestic violence, etc being explored, I think I would have enjoyed the book better if it narrowed the focus on a few central characters. This would have helped fully develop the main characters, explore the themes more deeply, and overall helped me keep track of the story, as I found it hard to remember every person’s story when there were 12 characters to follow (I listened to this via audiobook so I didn't have the "cast of characters" page to refer back to).
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,192 followers
August 18, 2018

Before I even finished reading this, I began hoping that Tommy Orange was already working on his next book. Beautifully written, creatively and skillfully structured with the stories of multiple characters, each one important and affecting on their own, but when meshed with connections that unfold I was blown away. For a short time these narratives seem like individual stories until one by one the characters become connected and their collective story is brutal, honest and sad and powerful. It will be at the Powwow in Oakland that family will be reunited with family, that some of them will face their demons, and some of them will find out who they are, and most of them become part of the tragedy that takes place there.

The description had me thinking I’d be reading about Native Americans of the present day, the urban Indian and that’s true BUT don’t think for a minute that Tommy Orange is going to be gentle with you and allow you to ignore the past. The Prologue - Indian Heads, massacres, snippets of history that filled me with sorrow, with a feeling of complicit guilt. He’s not gentle with the reader in the present either, he is honest. There is alcoholism and there are drugs, and suicide and questions of identity and family that lead to tragedies. Yet, in the midst of all of this we can find love through one of my favorite characters Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield. We find hope in Orvil Red Feather who just wants to go to the Powwow to dance, to be a part of his past, of which he knows little about. In Jacquie Red Feather, there is the wish for redemption. I loved that Dene Oxendene carries out his uncles dream of filming native Americans telling their stories. I loved that Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield’s mother tells her that she “shouldn’t ever not tell our stories.” I love that Tommy Orange took that advice. He educates us. I must have lived under a rock as I had never heard of the occupation of Alcatraz island by Indians of All Tribes in 1969 - 1971 and I had never the term urban Indian. This is a profound book, one that I hope will win awards.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,128 followers
September 7, 2018
Any novel that highlights or educates it's readers about a time in history where there was mistreatment of people due to their race religion or beliefs is always worth reading and this book is one of those books. However I am not judging the book on its importance but on how it came across and affected me and unfortunately from page one I didn't connect or engage with either the story or the characters.

There There tells the story of twelve characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day. Each of these characters have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow.
The structure of the book didn't work for me and I failed to connect with the stories or the characters
as there were so many of them. It lacked the character development I needed to engage or hold my attention.
I listened to this one on audio and perhaps that was a mistake as I find a book with so many characters and their stories is difficult to follow on audio and perhaps this would work better in hard copy.

The great thing about reading and books is that One Man's Pleasure is another man's pain And indeed while this was only a 2 star read for me, this may well be your 5 star read.

An ok read for me but certainly not one for my favourite list.
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews386 followers
November 15, 2019
Tommy Orange’s There There is, hands down, my favourite novel of the year (2018) thus far.*

If you came here looking for a scale-tipping review, look no further. In fact, imagine me clearing off any weight on the opposing side and planting my considerable heft on the side favoring your reading of this novel. If you’ve ever picked up a book because of my reviews, then trust me: this is one you’re going to want in your hands posthaste. There There is a novel we’ll be seeing crop up on best-of and award shortlists later this year and you’d be remiss to miss out on Tommy Orange’s impressive debut.

As a matter of fact, the less you know about this book, the better.

I'm not going to spoil the novel, but the true enjoyment comes from the unveiling of the 12 diverse voices that make up the cast of There There, anyways. Each character seems as if they could carry their own novel on voice alone. Be it humor, pathos, despair, joy, shame, or a yearning for lost culture, Tommy Orange managed to etch each character’s specific voice into my mind like names written in unset concrete. Their voices are powerful, resonant, and made the book’s reading compulsive.

To Orange’s credit, these diverse characters begin to become linked over the course of this story’s telling. As the Big Oakland Powwow looms ever closer, Orange begins to reel in threads you hadn’t realized were part of the same netting. I found myself blown away by the first few instances of familial or passing connection. I’d flip back to previous chapters as the time-hopping chapters began to nestle into a tight narrative that reflected the novel’s overarching themes. You wouldn’t be remiss if you’re thinking of Diaz, Mitchell, or Chabon.

Orange handles the Native American struggle in Oakland with a complexity that displays an incredible amount of thought, anguish, and introspection. Orange tackles the loss of Native American culture to colonialism in the same chapter that presents a forward-looking approach to cultural identity. The ideas here seem well-trod, complex, and offer no easy answers to the reader. Indeed, the multiperspectivity of the novel allows for a dialogue between the chapters that doesn’t always happen between the characters. By the novel’s end, I was left conflicted and unsure, but happy to have questions with which to wrestle.

Yet, this book is not one that is excessively heady or philosophical. In the book’s opening chapters a suggestively white, 3D-printed handgun arrives as if to announce: this is both the story you have heard and one you’ve never read before. As it happens, part of the book’s enduring charm is that it is paced like a thriller. There is violence, heartbreak, and boundless emotion waiting on every page. As the chronally-expansive timeline begins to be tied closer together, it is impossible to avert your attention from the bombastic climax Orange has so carefully laid out.

I’m writing this review from an airport bar, but I finished the book a bit over a day ago. As I walked through the terminal, waiting for my flight number to be called, I puttered my way through the quasi-bookstore offerings. Across the three, or maybe four, stores, There There was displayed prominently. It was a heartwarming sight: this is a book that I’m sure many people will love, but even more will benefit from having had read. It’s a novel that invites you to expand your empathy, to rethink conventional thought, and to immerse yourself in the mindsets of a cast of characters who are both like and unlike you.

The book is powerful, pulse-pounding, harrowing, eye-opening, and, most-importantly, fresh. This is Orange’s first novel, and you have to wonder what else the man has in his back pocket. This book is so expansive, so filled with beautiful voices and unique writing styles that the mind reels at what Orange could have possibly held back. Perhaps this novel is so powerful because he gave it all he had, because so little was left gestating in the back of his mind. This is the debut of an amazing and essential voice on the American literature scene. There There is a novel that is both a scream and a serenade. There There is a book that is going to stick with me for years to come.

*Though I've read some novels since There There that have come close!
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
December 17, 2018
A collection of interrelated stories set in Oakland, California, There There charts the inner lives of twelve Native Americans as they prepare for the impending Big Oakland Powwow. Orange hops from perspective to perspective, weaving together past and present and exploring what life in Oakland means to each Native character. The best of the chapters are highly affecting, and infuse great storytelling with political purpose; they are fast moving and full of well-drawn characters. The book unfortunately declines in quality when, near the middle of the plot, Orange tries to overlap his characters' disparate lives. The technique feels contrived, and the lurid ending comes across as a copout, a way for Orange to end all his storylines without having resolved any of their conflicts.
Profile Image for Justin.
284 reviews2,299 followers
December 13, 2019
Tommy Orange’s first novel had some promise in the beginning. It looked like he had some interesting things to say and some heavy topics to discuss. He had a lot of characters to introduce and several stories to tell.

He had ideas, but he wasn’t able to effectively put them down on paper. There There just isn’t written very well. It’s pretty sloppy. It takes concepts other authors have pulled off in the past, throws them all out there together and hopes for the best. Hoped for the best. Didn’t really get there, but hoped in one hand.

There are a whole bunch of plot devices used in There There, there are. You’ve got the multiple character arcs that slowly start to overlap. You’ve got that Perks of Being a Wallflower thing where every possible bad thing in life happens, and things just get worse and worse. You have the short, choppy writing where it feels like every paragraph is separated by a space to make the book seem longer than it actually is.

It just felt like good ideas that didn’t have enough time to simmer. Good ideas that were pulled taken out of the oven a little early so they were still too doughy in the middle. Good ideas that weren’t penned down well, heavily pushed by a publisher. Ideas packaged in a bright orange book that jumped out at you when you see it on a “best of summer” reading list, at the library, or at the front of the bookstore. Ideas that everyone reads about together and either goes all in or wonders what they missed.

I definitely missed something here. Luckily, it’s a quick read, and maybe next time Orange will have some time to really flesh things out a little more and really pull me into the world he’s building and the story he wants to tell. I’m gonna chalk this one up to hype, but this time it wasn’t worth it.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,779 reviews14.2k followers
July 10, 2018
Dene Oxedene, putting his life back together after his uncle's death, wins a grant, allowing him to video stories from those attending the Oakland Pow Wow. In alternating voices we follow the lives and stories of twelve different characters, many who have fallen on hard times of one kind or another. So in a way, these are connected, though the same people appear more than once, short episodes in the lives of those who have lost touch with their culture. This is in most cases through no fault of their own, but it is clear that this loss of culture has caused them to never feel as if they belong, even in their own country. Fractured selves.

The urban Indian in Oakland, is the focus here. Something I never knew about, so another difficult learning situation. A terrific debut novel, told in an angry, raw tone, these stories, these lives are full of anguish, pain and yes love. All are heading to the Pow Wow in Oakland, but for different reasons. One young boy wants to dance, his native dance though he knows little about his culture. He hopes to find acceptance and a sense of belonging. Others are heading there for different reasons, and the closer it gets the more the tension is ratcheted higher.

Tommy Ornge is a bright new talent for sure, but even more so he opens the readers eyes to issues of which like me, they are not aware. That is a good and powerful thing.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
November 13, 2020
Indigenous Immigrants

North and South America are inhabited almost exclusively by displaced persons. The story of each person is unique but their commonality is an experience of lostness often expressed through a sort of transcendentalist attachment to ‘the land.’ Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is My Land’ captures either a hope or an ideology depending on how it is interpreted. But it is also a restatement of Walt Whitman’s ‘Self’ who is the displaced and replanted part that speaks for the the whole: "It is you talking just as much as myself... I act as the tongue of you.”

The Urban Native American is a special category of displaced person however, first because of his forcible removal from wherever he came from, but more importantly because his dispersion among other displaced persons leaves him without an historical cultural community, and therefore without a self. Immigrant Scots, or Russians or Italians don’t identify as former Europeans. But Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota Sioux only possess any substantial cultural weight as Native American, a designation forced by circumstances. What they share is only displacement, not history, or language, or religion or social traditions.

So neither Guthrie nor Whitman speak for the Native American. And neither, in a sense, does Tommy Orange. Rather he speaks about individuals whose commonality is a lack of commonality - except for finding themselves fetched up together in Oakland California as a sort of desert island for the dispossessed. Each story is unique, genuinely unique, because the cultural connection among them is this invented category of Native American.

“We are the memories we don’t remember,” says one of Orange’s characters. What is shared is a vacuum. For these people “Everything is new and doomed.” Even their identity which has been imposed by the dispossessors. The irony implied by Orange’s use of the famous quote about Oakland “There is no there there,” is doubled in these stories. Stein meant that what she remembered of her childhood in Oakland had been obliterated. For these Native Americans the problem is not displaced memory but an absence of it. One can only hope that Orange’s ‘tongue’ is as effective as Whitman’s in creating a coherent community in which to be oneself.
February 28, 2019
A bunch of loosely woven essays on memory of a gross injustice ultimately forming a loose semblance of a plot.

Q: “There There,” by Radiohead… “Just ’cause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there.” … This there there. He hadn’t read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. (с)

Rating: We start at 5 stars.
+1 star: for the fearlessness: raising this controversial topic is strong.
-1 star: for the disjointedness. As an innovative and fresh view it worked. As a novel, it didn't. The book is more like a collection of stories, instead of a novel.
-1 star: for some minor factual inaccuracies (Mel Gibson and heads… there are many sources, including The Golden Bough by James George Frazer, that refer to pre-Columbus bloody native traditions, not just Mel.).
+1 star: a lot of difficult topics, not least of which the FAS, bipolarity, obesity, digital addiction, rape, poverty, substances abuse, DUI, home violence… All shades of hell.
-1 star: all the above things are common for people of all backgrounds. So… what does it have to do specifically with the Nativeness of the Tribal people?
So, I don't think the topic was very well shown. The issues felt like a laundry list of issues that are popular in discussion today.
A bunch of guys decide half-brainedly to rob a powwow? And? How is that a cultural phenomenon?
Drug dealing? How is it cultural and specific for the Indians? It isn't.
+1 star: Some quotes were truly beautiful and evocative (see below).
-1 star: While I get that the author wanted to get as many bonus points as possible and therefore crammed every issue he could into the space of one book, it didn't give space for analysis. For the whys and hows and what-do-we-dos.
The 'analysis' that was present, wasn't analytical. It was more like modern mythology, which looks beautiful in quotes but gives precious little brainfood. So, no proper analysis incorporated, which is a giant minus for me.
Overall: 4 stars.

Some of us grew up with stories about massacres. Stories about what happened to our people not so long ago. (c)
In 1621, colonists invited Massasoit, the chief of the Wampanoags, to a feast after a recent land deal. ...Two years later there was another, similar meal meant to symbolize eternal friendship. Two hundred Indians dropped dead that night from an unknown poison. (c)
Metacomet, also known as King Philip, was forced to sign a peace treaty to give up all Indian guns. Three of his men were hanged. His brother Wamsutta was, let’s say, very likely poisoned after being summoned and seized by the Plymouth court. All of which lead to the first official Indian war. (c)
Metacomet was beheaded and dismembered. Quartered. They tied his four body sections to nearby trees for the birds to pluck. Alderman was given Metacomet’s hand, which he kept in a jar of rum and for years took around with him—charged people to see it. Metacomet’s head was sold to Plymouth Colony for thirty shillings—the going rate for an Indian head at the time. The head was put on a spike, carried through the streets of Plymouth, then displayed at Plymouth Fort for the next twenty-five years. (c)
In 1637, anywhere from four to seven hundred Pequot gathered for their annual Green Corn Dance. Colonists surrounded their village, set it on fire, and shot any Pequot who tried to escape. The next day the Massachusetts Bay Colony had a feast in celebration, and the governor declared it a day of thanksgiving. Thanksgivings like these happened everywhere, whenever there were what we have to call “successful massacres.” At one such celebration in Manhattan, people were said to have celebrated by kicking the heads of Pequot people through the streets like soccer balls. (c)
But the city made us new, and we made it ours. … We did not move to cities to die. (c)
The quiet of the reservation, the side-of-the-highway towns, rural communities, that kind of silence just makes the sound of your brain on fire that much more pronounced. (c)
We are the memories we don’t remember, which live in us, which we feel, which make us sing and dance and pray the way we do, feelings from memories that flare and bloom unexpectedly in our lives like blood through a blanket from a wound made by a bullet fired by a man shooting us in the back for our hair, for our heads, for a bounty, or just to get rid of us. (c)
Cities form in the same way as galaxies. (c)
Being Indian has never been about returning to the land. The land is everywhere or nowhere. (c)
Maxine told me I’m a medicine person. She said people like me are rare, and that when we come along, people better know we look different because we are different. To respect that. (c)
They look at me like I already did some shit, so I might as well do the shit they’re looking at me like that for. (c)
Let the content direct the vision. (c)
“Why should we speak our business around people we don’t even know?” she’d say. (c)
“What does it look like?” he said.
“Like you’re trying to get rid of the island one rock at a time,” I said.
“I wish I could throw this stupid island into the ocean.”
“It’s already in the ocean." (c)
She told me the world was made of stories, nothing else, just stories, and stories about stories. (c)
Slowly receding into the past like all those sacred and beautiful and forever-lost things. (c)
The trouble with believing is you have to believe that believing will work, you have to believe in belief. (c)
My problem hasn’t just been with gaming. Or gambling. Or incessantly scrolling down and refreshing my social media pages. Or the endless search to find good new music. It’s all of it. I was really into Second Life for a while. I think I logged two whole years there. (c)
Sometimes the internet can think with you, or even for you, lead you in mysterious ways to information you need and would never have thought to think of or research on your own. (c)
If you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive to not find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger. Look no further than your last name. Follow it back and you might find your line paved with gold, or beset with traps. (c)
And somewhere in there, inside him, where he is, where he’ll always be, even now it is morning, and the birds, the birds are singing. (c)
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
May 28, 2022
“Life will do its best to get at you. Sneak up from behind and shatter you, into tiny unrecognizable pieces. You have to be ready to pick everything up pragmatically. Keep your head down and make it work.”

With There There, an intellectual connection across campus | Berkeley News

Tommy Orange’s There There is simply amazing! Yes, it’s heartbreaking, but Orange’s multigenerational story of the urban Native American experience is unforgettable. There are 12 distinct voices shaping the story, but they all resonate and feel bound together and drive the narrative forward. Far from confusing the story, each voice adds depth, grief, history and hope. There is also a certain rhythm to these interweaving stories that made this a difficult book to put down; you want to get to the end even though you know things aren’t likely to end well. A fantastic book! Highly recommended!!

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Fantastic to meet Tommy Orange at the PEN/Hemingway Award Ceremony at the JFK Presidential Library!
Profile Image for Katie.
277 reviews356 followers
June 29, 2019
Massively exciting with what freshness and vitality this emerges from the blocks. The first hundred pages are a joy to read. Fabulous descriptive writing with lots of relatable insights into modern life. I liked its anger and humour a lot. There was a documentary on the BBC a while back that followed a few Indians who are on their way to protest at Standing Rock. I was sad I only got to spend an hour with them. They were all compelling individuals and I wanted more. The thing was though, the documentary focused on only four or five individuals and all had the space to strike up an intimacy with the viewer. The protagonists in this novel on the other hand run to double figures and I was soon floundering. I was unable to remember their connections. Also, some themes were repeated, as for example the child abandoned by a mother or father and when the grand finale takes place at a big powwow I was really struggling to recall who was who. As creative writing this was excellent; as a novel I think it would have been more successful had he cut the number of the characters.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
May 29, 2018
Toward the end of Tommy Orange’s devastating debut novel, a 4-year-old Native American boy keeps asking his grandma: “What are we? What are we?”

The boy has no way of knowing, but that’s a blood-soaked question that Western invaders have made Indians ask themselves for centuries. Exiled, dispersed, murdered, robbed, mocked, appropriated and erased, Native Americans have been forced to define themselves amid unrelenting assault. Their survival, their failure and their resilience in modern-day America are the subjects of “There There,” this complex knot of a novel by a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

Everything about “There There” acknowledges a brutal legacy of subjugation — and shatters it. Even the book’s challenging structure is a performance of determined resistance. This is a work of fiction, but Orange opens with a white-hot essay. With the glide of a masterful stand-up comic and the depth of a seasoned historian, Orange rifles through our national storehouse of atrocities and slurs, alluding to figures from Col. John Chivington to. . . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Beata.
754 reviews1,153 followers
July 29, 2018
The novel is exceptional although it is very depressing. I'm not surprised There There has provoked so much discussion with regard to the plight of urban Native Americans trying to rediscover and understand their identity. There There is a definite food for thought!
Profile Image for Hannah.
594 reviews1,055 followers
August 16, 2018
This debut is absolutely 100% incredible. Marlon James called it a thunderclap and I have to agree. This might be my favourite read of the year so far. And as is often the case when I adore a book this much, writing a review does not come particularly easy because I want to do it justice without just reverting to hyperboles.

This book is told from 12 widely different perspectives that converge on the Big Oakland Powwow, and also includes some non-fiction parts in between. It is impeccably structured in a way that was both entertaining and heartbreaking and also very clever. I happen to really adore short stories that connect to a greater whole – and the first occurence of each person could stand on its own in a way that I found highly impressive.

The voices are distinct and different, in tone and narrative choice, in the way their language flows and in the metaphors they use – I found the way Tommy Orange juggles these different styles impressive without being just that. Sometimes, when a book is this accomplished it feels very dry and intellectual, but this one was also very raw and honest and also angry in a way that really worked for me. Tommy Orange shows a great tenderness for his characters in all their flaws (and there are plenty).

The book is funny and sad and poignant and just so so so well done. I do not have the words except to urge you to read it. I will be reading anything Tommy Orange decides to write next.

You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,585 followers
December 17, 2021
I feel guilty criticizing Tommy Orange's first novel, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and made several best-of lists when it was published in 2018. Some of my most trusted Goodreads friends adored it, and I can partly see why.

Orange is a gifted writer. I especially liked the book's prologue, in which he chronicles America's genocide of its Indigenous peoples and then explores some of the myths and truths about Native American lives in the subsequent centuries. He prepares us to think about the sense of dislocation and loss hinted at in the title, which comes (as a character will tell us later on) from Gertrude Stein.

The novel proper, however, features way too many points of view. (I especially didn't see the purpose of being introduced, 2/3 of the way in, to a character named Thomas Frank.) It takes a long time for the connections between and among them to become clear. And even then, you may wonder, "Who is this again?" before flipping back to the Cast of Characters at the beginning. Not a good sign.

What's more, often the novel's chronology is confusing. We meet one character when she's about eight, and a few chapters later she's... a grandmother? I think listing the year in which a character is narrating a chapter may have helped to orient us (it's something Louise Erdrich, who gets a lovely shoutout in the book, has done before).

Some of the POV techniques – one person narrates his section in the second person – feel like writing class exercises. And the book's big climax, set at an Oakland powwow, is rather clumsily done. (To be fair, Orange sets up a cross-cutting finale that would defeat even the most experienced novelist.) I longed for a powerful denouement, a scene that tied everything, and perhaps everyone, together. Instead, we got a faux lyrical vignette from a character we had pretty much forgotten about.

That said, I enjoyed lots about this book, particularly the way its urban characters often questioned their Indigenous identities. Orange has a soft spot for underdogs, like Tony, who was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Orville, a young man who secretly studies Native dancing on YouTube. I wanted more about the bond between half-sisters Opal and Jacquie. Jacquie, an alcoholic, emerges as the book's most poignant character as she slowly learns to move on from the tragedies of her past. A sequence in which she's struggling not to drink from her hotel room minibar is staggering.

So, I have mixed thoughts about the book. But I'm glad I read it. And I'm very curious to see what Orange does next.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,518 reviews8,976 followers
March 31, 2019
Such an important, powerful novel written from the perspectives of 12 Native Americans living in Oakland, California. Through these 12 distinct narrators, Orange shows the heterogeneity within the Native American experience, as these characters face unique challenges ranging from substance dependence, feeling disconnected from one’s culture, a lack of self-worth and job prospects, and more. I loved how Orange addressed the past and ongoing genocide and displacement of Native Americans so head on. In the United States’ education system, at least from my experience, we often gloss over the brutality experienced by Native Americans by white colonizers both in the past and in the present. Orange’s There There speaks truth to power by giving voice to the struggles of Native Americans. I feel glad that so many have received the book well.

All of that said, I struggled to connect to the characters on an emotional level given the sheer number of perspectives and the structure of the book. I think I get the statement made by the ending of the book and if so find it a powerful conclusion, yet, I wish the characters’ internal conflicts had more room to breathe. Still, I would recommend this novel to those interested because of its sociopolitical importance and vivid and accessible writing style.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,587 reviews2,809 followers
April 15, 2019
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019 Finalist
Winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award 2019
Winner of the NBCC John Leonard Prize 2018

Aaahhh, what a time to be a reader! First things first: Tommy Orange wrote a fantastic book, it is so strong, powerful, moving and enjoyable, and there's a whole bunch of people you will want to hit over the head with its wisdom (or with a physical copy of the book, for a start). Orange introduces us to more than a dozen Native Americans - men and women, young and old -, all of whom share a connection to Oakland and prepare to go to a big powwow in this very city. The core topic of the multignerational, multivoiced novel is identity: Orange tells stories about the urban Native experience, in a world in which many people connect Native Americans with stereotypes, the rez, or "going back to the land".

Orange, who grew up in Oakland and has a Cheyenne father and a white mother, creates a caleidoscope of characters who ask themselves the question what it means to be Native today. They struggle with family problems, alcoholism, depression, and the consequences of being perceived as "ambiguously nonwhite". Like all of us, they want to belong to their home and their community (in this case Oakland), and to connect to their heritage. The voices feel utterly real and the individual people are drawn in a psychologically convincing manner - this is Hanya Yanagihara-level character building right here.

I really liked how Orange uses music to illustrate the power of culture. Powwow music plays an important role in the text: The singing, the drumming, the regalia that dancers wear during their performances, and the dancing itself as an act to express one's inner feelings, the pain, the beauty and the pride. There are also references to Radiohead and Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" which make it clear how art can speak to our inner core and reflect what we carry inside us. One character in the book also continues the documentary film project that his late uncle had started which aims to tell the stories of urban Native Americans in order to improve representation and generate awareness - which is exactly what Tommy Orange does with his book (with fictional means, but rooted in his own experiences).

Sure, parts of this book are slightly over-constructed, but you know what? It doesn't matter (if I want pure realism, I look out of my window). I was completely absorbed by this novel, I wanted to learn more, to hear more from these characters - it's not only the the importance of the subject matter, this book is a true joy to read it and utterly intriguing. Some people criticized that the ending was over-the-top, but I beg to differ: It's clear from chapter 1 that something like this will eventually happen, and when you read the final chapters closely, you can see how intricately Orange composed those final scenes, and that they are filled to the brim with ideas that point beyond the action in the foreground. I also disagree that the set-up is Tarantino-esque: I love good old Quentin, but he mostly uses violence as a carthartic element or as over-the-top-entertainment, and Orange does not do that here. The impact of the violence he portrays comes from completely different sources.

What a brilliant guy this Tommy Orange is. He needs to write more books, ASAP!
Profile Image for Rebecca.
265 reviews275 followers
December 2, 2021
There There, follows twelve people of Indigenous American descent who, without realising it, are all connected and have the same destination in mind: the Big Oakland Powwow, a ceremony where Indigenous Americans eat, sing, dance, and socialise. As the book progresses, you learn more about the characters' past and present, their struggles and feelings, and how their lives are intertwined.

This novel is very well written, and I loved that each character's chapter felt like reading a short story. In such few pages, the Author shines a light on the generational injustices the Indigenous peoples of the United States face every day. Such an impressionable & important read.

This was a really great book and I highly recommend it 👌🏻
Profile Image for emma.
1,865 reviews54.3k followers
March 13, 2021

This book has like 12 different perspectives, and I swear there's like 4 different forms of representation in each one, and the whole thing is only 294 pages long.

And I listened to it on audio.

All of these things that could have been so HARD-HITTING and IMPACTFUL and LIFE-CHANGING were relegated to like 4 pages.

You know those amusement park rides where you sit in a little car thing that's attached by an iron bar to a big spinny thing in the center and you whirl around and around a circular track that also has inclines and declines at an ever-increasing pace?

This is like trying to read a book that someone is holding up on the other side of a guardrail while you're on one of those.

Bottom line: I wanted to like this. It just all happened so fast!!!


i don't recommend doing what i did.

review to come / 3? stars

currently-reading updates

reading a story with 12 main characters as an audiobook just to feel alive
Profile Image for Myrna.
714 reviews
July 13, 2018

If you haven’t heard of Tommy Orange yet, you soon will. This is one of those books that you're simultaneously dying to finish yet don't ever want to finish.

Orange paints a vivid picture in short chapters through different points of view as the story unfolds. The powwow becomes the centerpiece of the story with the dozen or so characters eventually heading toward it. The characters and their storylines drew me in and made me care, though not all are likable. I grew attached to a lot of them (and sad to say goodbye when the story ended) like Jacquie Red Feather, Opal Bear Shield, and Blue.

Powerful novel of the Urban Indians’ identity, family, loss, and strength. It is truly a satisfying read and I hope there is a sequel. Found myself talking about it with family and friends who have not read the book. This may be my favorite book of 2018 and it gets a solid 5★s+ from me!

On a side note, my audiobook ended with Opal’s chapter but the book ended with Tony’s chapter.
Profile Image for Theresa Alan.
Author 10 books1,042 followers
October 20, 2018
“Some of us got this feeling stuck inside, all the time, like we’ve done something wrong. Like we ourselves are something wrong . . . We drink alcohol because it helps us feel like we can be ourselves and not be afraid. But we punish ourselves with it.”

I think my expectations going into this novel were too high. I’d read rave reviews and it was nominated for a National Book Award. Orange takes an unflinching look at the ways white folks have abused Native Americans for hundreds of years—and show no sign of stopping ignoring sacred sites in the pursuit of raping Mother Earth. He also examines Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and other crime among the Indigenous population.

Why this story didn’t work for me as well as it might have was because there were so many characters, I couldn’t really bond and identify with any one of them. Also, even though I was taking notes, by the end of this relatively short novel (294 pages), I couldn’t remember who all the characters were. The book reminded me of Yaa Gyasi’s wonderful work, Homegoing, which also has many characters connected over time, but each chapter in that book was more like a short story, giving you the time to really care about the protagonist and see the world from his or her perspective.

For more reviews, please visit: http://www.theresaalan.net/blog
Profile Image for j e w e l s.
315 reviews2,418 followers
October 7, 2018
Once again, I am at a loss for words--BECAUSE I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH!! I was 100% invested in the characters and the story. I'm a closet Choctaw (meaning only that I am an enrolled member of the tribe, but not something I broadcast in my everyday life) and I was beyond excited to read a modern Indian story. Yes, as Orange points out, we refer to ourselves as Indian. It's okay. Don't hate on me.

Watch out for Tommy Orange. He is a young Native American writer and he has something to say. This is his debut novel of fiction revolving around a group of contemporary characters, all native, some related to each other, others not. The story is set in Oakland where the characters are all planning to converge upon the annual powwow. The Big Oakland Powwow is also where Tony Loneman plans to carry out a robbery. Tony Loneman is a dark, 21-year old drifter and is severely affected by fetal alcohol syndrome.

So, no Kevin Costner or John Wayne stuff here. This is the real story of real Indians in the very real 21st Century. Yes, the story is violent, but life in our gun-toting America is violent. Aside from the violence is a deep sense of optimism that resonated with me. Reflective, modern, and beautifully written. Tommy Orange, I will read anything you write!

The audio production is brilliantly done by several actors. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 38 books11.4k followers
December 23, 2018
"There There" is not simply a powerful and moving and deeply accomplished first novel: it is the sort of book that even the most veteran novelist hopes to achieve and rarely does. I loved each and every voice in this kaleidoscopic vision of Native life in Oakland today as a pow-wow nears. This is an intense and haunting and absolutely terrific book.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,795 reviews2,389 followers
August 25, 2018
” Sing it
Hey boy, give your dreams a rest
If you're tired of searching this is where it ends
There's nothing left to lose
Nothing to protest
Learn to love your anger now
Anger here is all you possess.
Welcome to the edge.

“Below the towers of the citadel
Seems someone overlooked the cost.
Forgotten soldier of Paradise
Now Paradise is lost.
Recognition never realized
Salvation lost among the crowd
So tell me here beside the sterile sea
Where is your nation now?”

--The Edge of America, Duran Duran, Songwriters: Simon John Charles Le Bon / Nick Rhodes / John Nigel Taylor

”All the way from the top of Canada, the top of Alaska, down to the bottom of South America, Indians were removed, then reduced to a feathered image. Our heads are on flags, jerseys, and coins. Our head were on the penny first, of course, the Indian cent, and then on the buffalo nickel, both before we could even vote as a people—which, like the truth of what happened in history all over the world, and like all that spilled blood from slaughter, are now out of circulation.”

”They used to call us sidewalk Indians. Called us citified, superficial, inauthentic, cultureless refugees, apples. An apple is red on the outhappened in hside and white on the inside. But what we are is what our ancestors did. How they survived. We are the memories we don’t remember, which live in us, which we feel, which make us sing and dance and pray the way we do, feelings from memories that flare and bloom unexpectedly in our lives like blood through a blanket from a wound made by a bullet fired by a man shooting us in the back for our hair, for our heads, for a bounty, or just to get rid of us.”

The title of this book comes from, in part, a quote from Gertrude Stein’s ‘Everybody’s Autobiography’ where she shared her feelings about her hometown of Oakland, “talking about how the place where she’d grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore.”

While the main focus is on their lives today, there is a strong sense of how the past has shaped the present time, their “now” into a different now, a different vision of what America looks like from their eyes, what their day-to-day lives look like through their eyes, these people - Dene Oxedene, Orvil Red Feather, Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, Jacquie Red Feather, Tony Loneman, Edwin Black, Bill Davis, Calvin Johnson, Octavio Gomez, Daniel Gonzales, Blue, Thomas Frank, and Loother and Lony.

With an upcoming Pow Wow to take place in Oakland, Dene hopes to win a grant to video the stories of those attending. As he’s waiting for his interview, he has a conversation with another young man also waiting, who probably has never read Gertrude Stein, only knows the part of her quote about Oakland being “There is no there there,” as though it’s impossible to believe that anyone is really from Oakland.

”The quote is important to Dene. This there there. He hadn’t read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it’s been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there.”

It’s soon time for his meeting with the panel, and his three minutes allotted to convince them that his project is worth the money they are going to spend on it. He talks about no one having seen the real Urban Indian story, with all the passion and power.

”But what we are is what our ancestors did. How they survived. We are the memories we don’t remember, which live in us, which we feel, which make us sing and dance and pray the way we do, feelings from memories that flare and bloom unexpectedly in our lives like blood through a blanket from a wound made by a bullet fired by a man shooting us in the back for our hair, for our heads, for a bounty, or just to get rid of us.”

This is such a beautifully written, powerful story, with twelve wonderful characters each with their own stories to share. Stories of despair, of poverty, of wanting to hold on to some part of their identity, of the things that tie them together in some way, but also recognizing how uniquely individual they are. Altogether, they tell one story with many sides to it, reflecting each other’s stories until they all become one, in one brilliantly fashioned composition of heartbreaking artistry.

A big thank you to my goodreads friend, Angela. I added this to read this only after reading her review, which let me know this was one I needed to read.

Angela’s review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Many thanks to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
July 27, 2018
This novel references Gertrude Stein’s comment about her memories of Oakland, CA, “there is no there there,” upon discovering her family home was taken down to accommodate an office park. I think the characters in this book would say it differently, that there is indeed something in Oakland, home of the fictional Big Oakland Powwow with which it concludes.

Distinct Indian voices tell a story about their lives, whatever they want to tell and not necessarily to an immediate point. Somehow it all comes together at the end, at the powwow. Family members find one another, and there is some recognition of their losses. It is a fantastic imagining of the experiences of many.

The chapters are long and rangy at the beginning, shortening as the pace quickens and the powwow approaches. The interconnection between characters comes clear. It is beautifully woven together, each party distinct and yet having a similiarly destructive upbringing.

What struck me most was, finally, the recognition of what happened to Native Americans and how diminished their legacy within their own tribes. There are many reasons for this, much of which we now realize was a shared responsibility we did not manage well. Orange doesn’t shy from painful truths; there is a psychic cost to the lives our ancestors took, or oppressed, a cost that has been playing out for hundreds of years. Although there may have been writers before who captured that karma, Tommy Orange is particularly skilled at showing us the ravages in a range of folks who struggle under the burden of what they have lost.

I alternately read and listened to the audio of this, produced by Random House Audio and featuring a full cast of readers: Darrell Dennis, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Alma Ceurvo, Kyla Garcia. It’s a wonderful listen, and an equally a fine read. However you approach this, you will appreciate the insights.

One of those insights helped me with a phenomenon I have never understood. The alcoholic uncle of one character came to visit his sister and her son. When he wasn’t drinking, the uncle was full of interesting stories and was a pleasure to be around. One day the uncle told the boy he was dying and was visiting people he knew and liked before his time was done. The young boy asked him why he was still drinking if it was killing him. The uncle answered
“I’m sorry you gotta see it, Nephew, it’s the only thing that’s gonna make me feel better. I been drinking a long time. It helps. Some people take pills to feel okay. Pills will kill you too over time. Some medicine is poison.”
I never understood that.
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