I Am Nuchu by Brenda Stanley 2010 (ARC)
IQ "But most of them [traditions] are written by people other people; writers who are not us. If you don't live it and practice it, it's not the same and will be lost." Grandfather pg. 190
Cal Burton is half Nuchu (Ute is the name given the Nuchu by white people) but he's never cared to learn more about his heritage. He's forced to live in the throes of his culture when his parents divorce and he must go live with his mother on the Utah reservation where she grew up. Cal hates everything about Fort Duchesne Reservation, he wants to go back to Spokane, Washington where is a basketball star and has lots of friends. In Utah, there is blatant racism and the sheriff is the driving force behind much of the racism. Cal gradually starts to learn that the reason they moved back to the reservation is not as clear cut as it seemed and that the Burton family has LOTS of secrets.
Before I start this review, I just want to say that I am not Nuchu or Native American so I can't say for sure if any of this was offensive to the Nuchu people but as a non-Native reader, I found some of this to be offensive. (if it's not offensive to Native peoples, I will raise the rating). First of all, I was always under the impression that Native Americans did not like to be called Indians, they prefer to be called by their tribal name, in this case, Nuchu. However throughout the entire book, EVERYONE says Indian. I can understand why the racists say it and I even understand why Cal says it, he sees it as a derogatory name befitting a group of people he wants nothing to do with. however Doran, Cal's brother is supposed to be the sensitive one, but even he says "Aren't you curious about the Indians?" (pg. 9). This makes the Nuchu sound like some foreign species and granted, Cal does Doran "[t]his isn't the old West." (pg. 9) but both boys continue to refer to the Nuchu as "the Indians." Which led me to think they both hate being Nuchu and yet, the author seems to be trying to make the claim that Doran is proud of his heritage and so are the other Nuchu people that Cal meets. If they are so proud, why do they identify themselves as Indians, a term that the ignorant people of the town use? Another incredibly annoying issue was alcohol. Shortly after arriving on the reservation, Cal catches his mom drinking at 10 AM. We aren't told how many beers she had nor are we told if she has previous history of being an alcoholic. But all of a sudden Cal is raging about his 'alcoholic mother' who hangs out with her "drinking buddies" (pg. 48). True having a beer in the morning is troubling, but I'm not sure I would immediately jump to the conclusion that my mother is an alcoholic!
The writing style also grated on my nerves. It was ALL TELL, no show. "Robert's face turned to despair." (pg. 254), "Cal swung around surprised" (pg. 58), etc. These feelings/emotions could be conveyed through the words Cal/Robert/whoever used, I don't need to be told that Cal is surprised, I should be able to gather that from the context. Furthermore, I was so tired of everyone lying to Cal. It just didn't seem realistic. I understand lying at first to protect him, but after he finds out one of the truths, why not just tell him everything? I suppose this could also be seen as a strength of the novel because I was just as fed up as Cal over the lies. I did like that the author was discussing revenge versus justice, but the execution fell so flat, I didn't pay it much mind. I never got a grasp on the personalities of all the characters either. Cal meets Puck, Johnny and Fly, but I couldn't keep them straight because they all blended together. They appeared when they were needed to help out the plot, but that was it. I didn't get a feel for Rachel (Cal's sister either).
I Am Nuchu has potential due to its complex mystery surrounding the death of Cal's aunt as well as the reasons as to why Cal and his siblings had to move back to the reservation, but it never comes together. The writing is slow, heavy with unnecessary details and not allowing the dialogue of the characters to carry the story. The characters are one dimensional and the dialogue sounds unnatural at times. To top it all off, I wasn't a fan of "Indian" being thrown about so casually and I'm not sure I liked the messages about alcoholism being presented. I was hoping to walk away from this book with a stronger idea of Nuchu culture, but that is not the case.
Disclosure: Received for review from Westside Books. I'm sorry :(