There There by Tommy Orange
This contemporary novel reveals the voices of twelve different Native characters living in Oakland, California as each struggles to come to grips with his or her identity, history, and heritage while living in an urban community. Tommy Orange interweaves the experience of modern urban Natives with the calling of tradition as all of the characters make their way to the Big Oakland Powwow. They’re all connected in one way or another and reflect the true complexity and variety of Native culture. I really could not get into this. I appreciated the overall theme of the book, but felt disoriented by the shallow characterization and lack of historical background. For example, one of the characters discusses her experience during the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, and I was completely lost. I don’t know enough about this historical event and felt adrift because it wasn’t explained. I guess I would have a better appreciation for this one if I had more historical context, and It did inspire me to do some research. There are a lot of characters, and this is a short book. I just couldn’t really connect with them, and it read more like individual short stories than a novel with the exception of the very end when things come together. I think the goal was to show all of the characters’ varied lives and experiences in a modern setting and not focus on history as much, but I still felt disconnected along the way.
The Wheelan family are my heroes. They quit their lives for nine months and traveled around the world on a gap year adventure. Not only were their experiences hilarious and exciting, but Charles Wheelan also details how they managed to make it happen along with the disastrous and wonderful parts of each leg of the trip. The trip included Charles, his wife, and their three teenage children. Now of course, a trip like this comes from a certain amount of privilege, and Wheelan does discuss this when explaining how they made their arrangements. They rented their home to relatives who also wanted an adventure in a different state. They found people willing to keep their family pets. The oldest daughter took a classic gap year before her first year of college, and the other two teens completed online school from various parts of the world. Wheelan and his wife take sabbaticals from their jobs in the academic world. They crafted a strict budget and stuck to it. The amount of planning this trip must have taken sends my head spinning but also excites me to another realm. I had daydreams about doing this before I read this book, and now it’s a full-on obsession. Wheelan is funny and presents as the typical embarrassing dad-joke kind of guy. His kids (like all teens) are equal parts bratty, intelligent, loving, sentimental, kind, and all-around great young people. Wheelan doesn’t shy away from sharing the tough parts about adventure travel. One of his daughters gets a flesh-eating bacterial infection. They get swindled in India. They lose two kids (temporarily) in Colombia. Wheelan’s banter with his kids is so familiar and made me smile over and over again. If you like travel, this book will stir your spirit.
Travel All the Pages is inspired by my two loves - travel and reading, a combo I can't resist. Enjoy these little pairings.