Review of There There: A Novel by Tommy Orange

Reviews Published Professional Reader

There There: A Novel is a social-consciousness raising book that leaves you reeling like a punch in the gut.

The opening remarks cause you to start seeing the world differently. Remember the black and white Indian-head test pattern drawn in 1939 and broadcast until the late 1970s? It was “surrounded by circles that looked like sights through rifle scopes.”

Orange, himself of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, portrays a contemporary Native American in his fiction. The Native American of There There is Urban and fraught with identity issues; searching for heritage or trying to distance himself from it.

Set in Oakland, California, Orange follows the story line of several Natives as they plan to attend an intertribal Powwow at the Oakland Coliseum. For the Urban Native Americans, the city they once called home wasn’t any more. A quote from Gertrude Stein about Oakland, “There is no there there,” provided the title for Orange’s novel.

The Native peoples of There There have other problems common to urban Blacks, Hispanics, and marginalized groups. We see alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome, poverty, suicide, teen sex, and teen pregnancy. Drug use and drug sales fuel violence and death.

Orange, born and raised in Oakland, has deftly woven the heartbreak and hope of the characters in a compelling story.  This book lives up to the hype. So far There There has garnered the PEN/Hemingway award, a prize from the National Book Critics Circle for best new book, and the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction.

Thanks to my local library for the loan of the audiobook. The narration by several voice artists is well done!