Close the Door on this Open Ending- a review of There There by Tommy Orange

Upon expanding the representation of BIPOC on my bookshelves, I got drawn to Native American culture. This was one that came highly rated upon searching for this criteria with a premise that allowed meto give it a go.

Urban Native Americans, ones in touch with a culture they will never truly see. The Big Oakland Powwow brings many Native Americans together. Some seek to find their families again, others to connect with family slowly drifting away from them. Some are so in touch with their cultures and others wish to be part of that culture again, just to observe the events or to actually come to run and take part in it. There There follows twelve of them coming to the Powwow for celebration… And some come with more sinister intentions in the midst of crime and drug dealerships. Regardless, these twelve all have something to overcome and discover.

Each character in this novel was so well developed and each so unique. With the characters and their unique stories alone, this feels like the Native American interpretation of In The Heights minus the optimism and musical numbers. There was such a diversity of goals, as with any group of characters, but seeing cultural connections tie them together added a lot of meaning to the ensemble. Especially when their narratives brought them together and wove them into this blanket collection of stories. The characters by far made this story what it is and it the pure core of it.

One thing still confuses me – why were the POVs in different personages, even for specific characters? At first I thought the first person perspectives were of the survivors and the third the ones who would die, but then individual POVs changed from first to third in different chapters too. And then one was randomly in second person. This really dragged me out of the story as I failed to find significance in this. and I’m now convinced it was some kind of editing error. I mean, there probably was some kind of meaning behind it, but I can’t see it even now to save my life. This will genuinely haunt me for years.

Another thing I was unsure of is the ending. It made me confused as to what the point of this story was at the end. It was an open ending, yes, but that’s not always something I’m mad about. But an open ending that leaves you confused is not a good open ending. I pity the fate of the characters and found that good, but a lot of the arcs of characters felt unfulfilled. And there was a lot of them with POVs. And ending can make or break a story for me, and let’s just say it broke this one after a very strong beginning with very strong characters.

I should finish by respecting the intention of this novel and the things I learned about modern Native American culture while reading this. I’m happy to take that as a giveaway with a story I didn’t wound up enjoying enough.

There There gets a score of 3/5. An opening ending that doesn’t appeal.

Yours in writing


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