Culturally Connected

Review Over Novel, ‘There There’


Photo by Ruchi Sankolli

“There There” by Tommy Orange is a mesmerizing story in which multiple people are able to reconnect with each other through one crucial cultural event. Since culture is an important part of a person’s life, more people should know about their own stories and other peoples’ stories. This novel does a wonderful job of explaining the importance of culture and why being attentive to different cultures is important for our own knowledge and growth as human beings.

Ruchi Sankolli, Assistant Editor

I have always loved learning about the different cultures and hearing stories of them. I feel more connected to other cultures because of my own, and over time, this curiosity about cultures grew. The novel “There, There” by Tommy Orange demonstrates the importance of culture, personal identity and how we are connected through our upbringings, and this novel really touched my intense curiosity about Native American culture. 

This novel was assigned to the AP English IV classes as a choice to read over the winter break, which is when I first chose to read it. The very first thing that caught my attention about this book was that each chapter was its own different story. The novel itself focused on 12 main characters who are all suffering from tragic events in their lives, from death of a loved one to substance abuse. The main pattern I saw between these characters was how disconnected they were from their Native American culture. I read about how some of them struggled with personal versus cultural identity and not knowing much about their own culture. The turning point in the book was when the characters attended a Native American festival known as the Powwow, in which many modern Native Americans would participate and come together to express their Native American heritage, from performing traditional dances to projects to speeches. 

Right off the bat, I appreciated how the novel talked so much about Native American culture, providing stories about the characters’ navigation through their culture. It also included a small break from the story in which the author dedicated that break to discussing Native American values to have the readers better understand. As a person who does not know much about Native American culture, I thought it was amazing how the author was able to convey the main ideas behind Native American culture through storytelling. I felt that the author was able to have the readers be in the shoes of those characters struggling to connect with their culture, instead of just writing about Native American culture in the raw. This way, I was able to understand how life was for modern Native Americans, and the daily struggles they go through with preserving their culture. I was also kind of humbled because I now knew more about Native American culture, and was able to learn to recognize and respect different cultural values.

The most mesmerizing part of the book was how every character was connected. “There, There” was Orange’s first novel, yet he was able to present such a complex idea and make it connect. Since the story involves multiple protagonists, connecting all of those protagonists is difficult, and some veteran authors struggle with this (let alone first-time authors). Orange, however, was able to connect all the characters’ stories together. The characters were also able to unite with each other and themselves altogether. 

The characters themselves felt like real human beings based on their portrayals. They were so deeply flawed that they had room for growth and characterization, and their problems were relatable as well. Multiple times, I felt that I could relate to some of the problems presented in the book, especially ones that involved cultural versus personal identity issues. Moving to different places a lot as a child impacted my cultural and personal identity as well. What culture I should stay true to was an important consideration to make, because the fear of not knowing who I was or where I came from was intense, and this book kind of touched on those issues and made me think back to how I got over that, just as these characters did. 

I think that all students should definitely read this book. It deals with a variety of important topics, from hardships in life to connecting with one’s own heritage, and I think students will have a lot to learn from these written experiences. Since the book also deals with modern problems, such as familial relationships, there is also a lot to relate to in this book. Overall, the novel is a beautiful combination of both personal and cultural experiences and struggles, and wonderfully shows how each character perseveres over their individual struggles, becoming the best version of themselves. I think that is something we all should read about once in our lifetimes.