Berkshire Eagle Book Club

Our reviews: "There, There'


The Book:

"There There" by Tommy Orange

Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 5, 2018)

Synopsis: As we learn the reasons that each person is attending the Big Oakland Powwow — some generous, some fearful, some joyful, some violent — momentum builds toward a shocking yet inevitable conclusion that changes everything. "There There" is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen.

The Reviews: 

How do you tell the collective story of a people whose cultural identity is as diverse as those it includes? And at the same time, try to break down racial and cultural stereotypes?

The answer can be found in Tommy Orange's debut novel, "There There." Through the tales of a dozen individuals, he weaves a larger story of the of urban American Indian and their struggle to exist in a world that wants everyone to check a single box when it comes to race and ethnicity. Orange is a talented storyteller, who breathes life into characters that you want to know more about; who you begin to care about or begin to detest. As the individual stories began to entwine, it became harder and harder to disengage and put this book down. I found myself wanting to know how the story ended, but not wanting it to end. When it did end, it left me wanting more, yet satisfied. It's a curious combination, but also the reason this is the best work of fiction I've read this year.

— Jennifer Huberdeau, UpCountry Magazine editor

It's so rare to pick up a work of fiction with an authentic voice — and a voice so rarely heard from in the publishing world. Author Tommy Orange has managed to tell the complex, deeply internalized story of today's urban American Indian experience with authority and heart while creating a page-turning narrative that I couldn't put down. He uses the clever trick of telling the story through different characters who all eventually overlap at an Oakland, Calif., powwow. The ending is messy; there is no real feeling of closure or at least a breath of "The End." But it works because this is an ongoing story about a culture, race and ethnicity that is constantly evolving — running from its past while trying to maintain and bring back tradition. This country's native history is messy and ongoing and Orange's book reminds us that these voices need to be heard in a  present-day setting, not just as stereotypical images in history books. It's the kind of book that I wish I had read in high school, or at least college.

— Lindsey Hollenbaugh, managing editor for features

Tommy Orange hits the ground running with his debut novel "There There," which follows a group of Native Americans in Oakland, Calif., in the weeks leading up to a powwow. The narrative barrels along, from the enthralling and frenetic prologue, to the lightning bolt of foreshadowing that arrives at just about the mid-way point of the book, through the end, which cuts off fittingly mid-chaos. The characters are charming and real, with problems and lives that are depicted in a refreshingly authentic way, and whose problems and lives aren't given a neat bow at the end. This may be the best book I read in 2018 — well deserving of the hype.

— Meggie Baker, calendar editor

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Tommy Orange's prose reads fast but isn't light. His portraits of urban Native Americans capture love and pride but also multi-generational struggles with alcoholism, violence and abandonment. These depictions bear the stains of history, as many of the characters' shortcomings can be traced all the way back to European settlers' brutality toward Native Americans (a label that applies to a diverse set of cultures, something Orange conveys) upon arriving centuries ago; as a white reader, I found myself questioning the image I have constructed of my own lineage. While Orange's narratives are individually engrossing due in large part to his refreshingly realistic dialogue, they can be a lot to digest early on. Perhaps eight characters would have worked better than 12. The Big Oakland Powwow convenes them, though, in an ending that deftly slows a lightning-fast event into poignant reflections.

— Benjamin Cassidy, arts and entertainment reporter

"There There" by Tommy Orange isn't a book I would've have chosen to read, but after a week of contemplating it, I'm glad I read it. The novel's 10-page prologue alone makes this book worth reading. In it, Orange recounts some 500 years of Native American history, a history of genocide and dislocation. The book tells the stories of 12 urban Native Americans in Oakland, Calif., whose lives and stories often intercept, and their attempts to preserve their heritage, each in their own way. The issues they face are many of the same issues those living on the reservations face: alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, and a loss of their heritage and personal identities. I see Orange, himself a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, as the character of Dene Overdene, who is awarded a grant to film first-hand accounts of the Native American experience. For even though his characters are fictional, their plights are real. The book races toward everyone converging at the Big Oakland Powwow, where their lives will change forever ... and despite what happens at the powwow, a glimmer of hope shines.

— Margaret Button, associate features editor

Win a copy of the book

If you would like to take home a copy of "There There," email or write to Lindsey Hollenbaugh, managing editor of features, and tell her what book you are most looking forward to reading in 2019. What book is on your radar that you'd like us to read as well? A comment will be picked at random.

What you need to do: Send your comment via email to Or, via mail: Lindsey Hollenbaugh, The Berkshire Eagle, 75 South Church St., Pittsfield MA, 01201. Please include your first and last name and your mailing address. Good luck, and happy reading!

Read along

The next book we'll be reading is Tana French's "The Witch Elm."

From the writer who "inspires cultic devotion in readers" (The New Yorker) and has been called "incandescent" by Stephen King, "absolutely mesmerizing" by Gillian Flynn, and "unputdownable" (People), comes a gripping new novel that turns a crime story inside out.

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life — he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden — and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, "The Witch Elm" asks what we become, and what we're capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

Read along with us and email Lindsey Hollenbaugh your thoughts to be included in our next book club edition, on the second Sunday of February. Email


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