Review of “There There” by Tommy Orange

In honor of National Native American Heritage Month, we read a highly praised debut novel by Native American author Tommy Orange.


There is a strange kind of nostalgia attached to this book. It inflates your heart like a bike pump to your chest, coddles it with a soft touch, and then pops it with the raw energy of a thunderstrike. 

Tommy Orange’s resonant debut novel “There There” is beautifully written and skillfully crafted to show the diversity of modern Native Americans. Orange attempts to break the pattern of the stereotypical and monolithic ways that the media commonly uses to portray Native Americans.

Following twelve main characters, the book constantly shifts through twelve perspectives that eventually intertwine to create a single narrative, all converging at a single spot: the Big Oakland Powwow. While following each character through their journey to the powwow, Orange shares the diverse urban Native American experience with the feathering of heavy topics woven into every page.

Orange’s pacing and structure are phenomenal; he slowly pieces together the world and community that each character lives in until facing us with the chaotic climax, a dizzying experience with every sentence read. The novel feels like a becoming, a puzzle wherewith each piece of information it feeds us, something shifts into a new there there.

“There There” is more than a book about Native Americans—it is a profound book of truth. It’s both disorientating and stabling. It’ll engulf you in a warm embrace while simultaneously pushing you into the heart of a fire. It is a work of art.