Thursday, December 9, 2010

Throwback Thursday: Rain Is Not My Indian Name

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith 2001

Rating: 3/5

IQ "What with that foot crowding my mouth, I could hardly find a reply. Too bad Dmiti couldn't sell me a word-catcher to let good ones through and trap the rest. It was just that I'd seen so many tacky-looking dreamcatchers over the years, the kind with fakelore gift tags and flamingo-pink feathers. I looked again, more closely this time. the one Dmitri had shown me was beautiful. Being the real thing made a huge difference." Rain pg. 71

Cassidy Rain Berghoff decides on New Year's Eve she will start anew. Her birthday is on New Year's day, she's never kissed a boy and she's about to turn fourteen. What better way to welcome the new year than by kissing a guy she likes? That same night, Rain's best friend, Galen dies. Now it's six months later and Rain rarely leaves her house. Galen was her only close friend and she doesn't want to talk to anyone. She didn't even attend his funeral. Rain decides to re-enter the world when her Aunt Georgia's Indian Camp is threatened. The Indian Camp is designed to promote pride in various Native American cultures, it's being challenged for asking for funds from Rain's small Kansas community (seen as wasteful spending). Rain loves to take pictures and so she is hired by her town newspaper to photograph the campers. Rain doesn't really want to get involved, she's mainly there for her Aunt Georgia, but there's something about the camp that keeps drawing her back in.

This is another book that I feel could have benefited from being longer (it's only 135 pages). The plot concerning Indian Camp was a new and interesting one and I wish it had been further developed. I wanted to follow them on the field trip and learn more about their respective cultures. I was hoping to learn more about other activities that were a part of Indian Camp. Most of the characters were well developed, except for Galen's mother. She just seemed vindictive and while I could understand her arguments, there didn't seem to be a true motive behind them. Rain's father is in the army and he's in Guam for the entirety of the book but there is some fleshing out of his character, but not as much as I would have liked. In addition, at times I thought Rain could be a bit naive for fourteen. she doesn't understand the rumors swirling about her and her best friend, Galen, which surprised me. I would have assumed that she would have caught on.

I read Born Confused right before I starting reading Rain Is Not My Indian Name and it was a nice coincidence that both books have a main character who loves to take pictures. Rain loves to take pictures in black and white, she feels that it helps to capture the complexity of the subject and it doesn't hide anything. It's a small thing but I also appreciated that Rain hadn't taken pictures for a few months and when she finally picks up her camera again, she doesn't take perfect pictures. She makes mistakes in her shots but gradually she does remember and excel. I felt this was more authentic. I get annoyed when a character has a talent, ignores it and is then able to just pick it up again and be brilliant at it. That may be authentic for some people, but not all. Rain is Muscogee Creek-Cherokee, Scots-Irish, German and Ojibway (I decided to just include the Ojibway tribe as the label because that's the heritage that plays the largest role in the story), but she doesn't like to tell people that unless they are Native. As she explains "when it's Native people asking, probably because they show respect for the tribal affiliation, for my family. They never follow up with something like 'You don't seem Indian to me.'" (pg. 48) I think anyone can relate to that, not wanting to always have to explain/defend yourself, your heritage.

Rain Is Not My Indian Name is another big step towards filling in the ridiculously large gap of books that are about Native Americans and told in a respectful manner. However, the strength of this story also lies in the main character of Rain. Rain is grieving and even though some people think she should have gotten over it already, I was able to sympathize with her grief and understand why she just wanted to stay home (her mother had also died six years ago). Rain's home situation may seem unusual to some readers (she lives with her grandfather who is on vacation in Vegas so during the course of the book she lives with her older "Native American Fabio" brother, Fynn and his girlfriend) but the sibling and parental issues are ones that all teenagers face in some way, shape or form. Rain is polite, but she calls it like she sees it and that's refreshing. Plus she's not easily swayed by guys, which is a bonus. I think this book could have worked so much more if it had done MORE. I suppose since the Indian camp was only supposed to last a few days, that's why it was so short, but I wanted to closely follow the Indian Camp, as closely as rain trailed the campers with her camera. I was most surprised by how immersed I was in small-town culture. I personally, felt stifled (everyone knew everybody's business, two Black families, nine Native Americans, one or two Jewish people, not much to do). A fun and multi dimensional group of characters with a new (well new-to-me) setting made this book a quick but good read read.

Disclosure: Bought

PS The character of Queenie CRACKED ME UP. It reminded me of how almost everyone tries to claim some kind of Native American heritage. Especially Black southerners. It's so funny (funny to meanyway) because usually the Native American tribe they claim is the same (Cherokee) and it's so far removed, it's ridiculous to even try to make the claim. But I have white friends who do the same thing. It's an amusing phenomena.

Throwback Thursday is hosted by Take Me Away Reading

1 comment:

  1. This sounds amazing! I feel like I am able to find so very, very few books with American Indian protagonists. Yay, thanks for this review!


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