Group Discussion: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.


K. Imani: The title comes from a quote by Tupac who said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants F*** Everybody.” I had never heard that quote before and found it very interesting. As the novel progressed and the meaning of Thug Life became more and more evident, I found it to be extremely profound. And a true statement of our times, especially since the election there has been a rise in hate crimes. Children of color are bearing witness to hate against them and I can only imagine what will happen when they come of age and discover the power of their voice like Starr does.

Crystal: I too hadn’t heard of this particular quote, but it resonated with me. It made me think of the many ways that Black children are seeing and experiencing hate in our country. Tupac had some wisdom there. It only seems logical that sowing hate will bring negatives for everybody.

Audrey: It was also my first time hearing that quote, but it is a powerful sentiment and a perfect distillation of the themes in THUG. I loved how it kept coming back into the story and how Starr’s relationship to it changed as she watched the fallout of Khalil’s murder in her family, her community, and the surrounding city. The hate played out differently across the characters, but there was no question that it made things worse for everyone all around.

K. Imani: One aspect of the novel I loved is that Starr had a relationship with her parents. We learn early that her parents are very frank with her, specifically having given her “The Talk” (not the sex talk, the one all Black kids get about dealing with the police) at a young age, and even shows when her 8 year old brother receives The Talk. It is because of this talk/relationship with her parents that Starr initially stays relatively calm when she and Khalil are pulled over. I like how Thomas revealed the different parts of The Talk by having her think of her father’s words as she encountered the hostile police officer. I know many Black folk who go through the same process when pulled over, especially these days when one never knows how their encounter will end up. I think we’re all Starr in that moment.

Jessica: Speaking of The Talk – I didn’t notice until later in the book that even though Starr did everything “right” when she and Khalil were pulled over, just like her parents told her, it wasn’t enough. The policeman pointed his gun at her as well. She points that out to her parents, and they understood instantly. So many people question who Khalil was, whether he had it coming, and so on, but Starr’s parents are steadfast in their understanding of the reality of the situation – that nothing justified his killing.

Crystal: I really appreciated the adults in the story and the relationships Starr had with them. Starr’s parents showed that they loved their children and were going to hold them to high standards because of that love. Their rules and consequences are reasoned decisions based on love and a desire to do what’s best for their kids. The humor and respect they show sure add another great element too. They had a beautiful relationship they were sharing and modeling for their kids. It was also good to see Starr’s uncle and his role in her life. It added another layer to the story to see how he had stepped in for her family when she was young and to see events from a Black police officer’s perspective.

Audrey: I loved Starr’s parents. Thomas gave me a glimpse through them–and Starr’s reactions to them and their advice–about what other people’s experiences are in America. It was heartbreaking when her little brother got pulled aside for The Talk, but I appreciated seeing that their parents had to make that call not because any eight-year-old is an actual threat to anyone but because we live in a world where they, as good parents, must give their children as much information and advice as they can to help keep them safe. Starr going through The Talk in her head when she and Khalil got pulled over made me very aware of all the small things that could–and did–go wrong. And it made the second awful encounter with the police later on all the more terrifying because of the possibility it could happen again.

There were a lot of good adults in Starr’s world, and I appreciated how Thomas took the time to demonstrate how they could have different perspectives and disagreements about how things should play out. They could fight with one another and still be united in the desire to do what was best for their families and communities. It was wonderful to see that depth and breadth in the characters.

K. Imani: Yes, I so agree with you Audrey. A common YA trope is to have absent parents & adults, so I’m glad that Thomas filled the novel with with so many important and loving examples of parent/child, uncle/niece, sibling, in-law relationships. All of them really showed how inter-connected many families, and communities, truly are and that when one hurts, the entire family hurts.

K. Imani: Another theme that was so strong in T.H.U.G is the concept of code switching that Blacks who move in primarily White spaces have. As one who grew up usually one of the few Black children in school, I fully connected with Starr here. She states, “That means flipping the switch in my brain so I’m Williamson Starr. Williamson Starr doesn’t use slang – if a rapper would say it, she doesn’t say it, even if her white friends do.” This duality that many Black people live with is exhausting, but not really talked about. I felt like being with Starr as she struggles to maintain “Williamson Starr” while dealing with her grief, her PTSD, and the tension in the community from Khalil’s death was an original way to show the inner turmoil many Black people experience from having to code switch.

Audrey: As a biracial Latina who wasn’t taught Spanish and grew up speaking like the white side of my family, I don’t have personal experience in code-switching, but I was exhausted for Starr as she had to flip the switch back and forth repeatedly. It took so much effort for her to maintain “Williamson Starr” while at school or around her school friends. Her repeated reminders to herself about not wanting to come across as the Sassy/Angry Black Woman or as “ghetto” made me upset and angry on her behalf–and was a potent reminder about how damaging stereotypes are. Starr struggled with her PTSD and grief and conflicts with her community, but she had to bottle so much of it up in the Williamson Starr side of her life because she didn’t want to mess up the image of herself she had built there. How much better off would Starr have been if she felt free to fully express herself at Williamson?

K. Imani: A few years ago I taught an article about PTSD in children who experience violence and I think exploring Starr’s PTSD from seeing the murder of her friend, especially at the hand of a policeman, reminds me of it. The article explains that children who experience trauma, who see family and friends murdered, experience PTSD at almost the same rate as war veterans. I’m so glad that Thomas has Starr experience PTSD, triggered whenever she’s around police officers, because witnessing Khalil’s murder is so traumatic. The way Starr’s PTSD manifest felt very real and true to life.

Audrey: I’m glad that Thomas included Starr’s PTSD and demonstrated all the ways it was present in her life. Too often mental health issues are swept under the rug for minority communities, and it’s important to see characters who deal with them. Especially a black teenage girl, since stereotypes about black woman frequently center on very specific types of “strength” that don’t allow for mental illness or emotional vulnerability. The PTSD seemed to be handled well to me, but I would love to read a review of T.H.U.G. from a black reviewer who has PTSD to get their thoughts.

Jessica: Ditto what Audrey said regarding reviews.

K. Imani: Let’s talk about Starr’s and Chris’s relationship, specifically how it was presented and the inner conflict Starr felt about having the relationship. Having Starr be in an interracial relationship truly added another layer to the narrative of THUG, and one that is often not addressed much in stories where interracial relationships exists. The challenges the couples face are usually very surface, but Starr deals with some serious identity issues because of their relationship, and trust issues, especially after Khalil’s murder.

Audrey: I really appreciated how Thomas didn’t shy away from showing some of the conflicts of interracial relationships. (My family has some nasty stories about future in-laws flipping out when they found out who their children had fallen in love with.) The struggles Starr faced through the book as she reexamined her relationship with Chris demonstrated how difficult forging and maintaining that kind of relationship could be. It was also an excellent contrast to Starr’s friendship with Hailey, who refused to believe she could be wrong or that Starr’s POV and feelings and experiences were valid.

Crystal: Starr felt comfortable with Chris because she could be herself with him. She didn’t do as much code switching with him as with the others at her school. She still kept many things hidden from him though. Thomas really did a great job showing Starr’s decision making there and letting readers know that these decisions weren’t made lightly. Chris and Starr have a lot to work through beyond the typical dating issues that come up between teens. Some of their conversations around race show that even Chris is operating under some biases though he is open to learning.

K. Imani: I agree with you Crystal that Thomas did an excellent job of making Starr and Chris’s relationship complex and that the decisions they make apart and together are done with careful thought. It is clear that there is mutual respect and love for each other based on their personalities and mutual likes.

Audrey: One of the small things later in the book that made me really happy was how Maya and Starr formed a “minority alliance” and promised each other that they wouldn’t let Hailey get away with saying any more racist stuff to them again. That moment of self-reflection from Starr, about how she needed to have a voice and stand up for others, too, was wonderful, especially since both she and Maya followed up on their pledge to back each other up. It was great to watch them come together and be allies for each other.

K. Imani: That moment! I almost forgot about that, this novel has so much. I’m, again, thankful for the way Thomas chose to write Hailey because a lot of people think racists are the evil mustache-twirly villains of old, and not realize that they harbor their own racist beliefs until they are called on it. Hailey is a character that I think will make folks uncomfortable but also be able to use her antics to take a good look at themselves and make a change. I was proud of the girls banding together and standing up to her because they realized they were also part of the problem, but now by having each others back they can invite change.

Jessica: Just a sidenote… was super psyched to see that Maya was Taiwanese! And the little details about her that were linked to being Taiwanese – spending breaks in Taipei, her last name, etc.

Getting back to the topic, I’m struck by how many threads were running through the book – the different family and friend dynamics, neighborhood life, the protests, coping with trauma, and relationships. There is so much going on, but it all links together and just fits. Sometimes, I think books will try to tackle current events and topics, and will struggle to make everything work in a way that doesn’t sound like an after-school special, but THUG succeeds where an awful lot of other books flounder.

I know THUG hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list (woo!), is getting a movie, and is basically enjoying some well-deserved success. Given that it’s on the path to being the next “everyone and their mother is reading this book” kind of novel, I’m definitely curious to see how people directly involved in the organizing (and leading? I guess ‘leaders’ is kind of a false concept in grassroots movements) of the Black Lives Matter movement react to this book. Or maybe they’ve already read this book, and I just haven’t dug into the reception of THUG enough.

Also, I’m way excited for Book 2! Aaaah!

Crystal: I had to go verify this second book you mention. Yes! In a recent interview, A.C. Thomas implies that it’s more of a companion book set in the future a bit, but still, I too am super excited to read more.

K. Imani: What? There is a second book? Woo-hoo!!! Thanks Crystal for the link to the article. I’m sure everyone who has read “The Hate U Give” or has yet to read it (what are you waiting for) is excited to hear that news! Clearly we all loved “The Hate U Give” , now tell us what you thought of Thomas’s best selling debut novel.

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#Zettasbooks Group Discussion

wish door

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 A Wish After Midnight – Genna Colon desperately wants to escape from a drug-infested world of poverty, and every day she wishes for a different life. One day Genna’s wish is granted and she is instantly transported back to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

The Door at the Crossroads – One summer night, Genna Colon makes a fateful wish that sends her and her boyfriend Judah spiraling through time. They land hours apart in the city of Brooklyn—and in the middle of the Civil War. Genna is taken to the free Black community of Weeksville, but Judah suffers a harsher fate and is sent to the South as a slave. Judah miraculously makes his way back to Genna, but the New York City Draft Riots tear them apart once more. When Genna unexpectedly returns to her life in contemporary Brooklyn, she vows to fulfill the mandate of sankofa: “go back and fetch it.” But how will she summon the power she needs to open the door that leads back to Judah?


We’re excited to be discussing A Wish After Midnight and its sequel The Door at the Crossroads. Zetta Elliot crafted these incredible stories and we hope these two books get into many hands. We started a discussion, but would love to have others join us either on Twitter or here on the blog in the comments. If you’ve read the books, please share your thoughts. If you haven’t read the books, be aware that you will encounter what some may perceive as spoilers throughout this discussion.


***SPOILERS AHEAD***

 

Crystal: Genna explains, “Mama always told us we were black, not Hispanic. She says in America, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what language you speak. Black is black and you might as well get used to it.” Though a majority of the book happens in the past, I definitely found the book to be a commentary on contemporary times. There are many references to how people see and are seen beyond the one mentioned above. It seems sight is the most important piece of evidence when people are being judged. Genna says sometimes it’s like there’s a tattoo on her forehead that says “ghetto.” An elderly man at a garden befriends Genna and he sees in a different way. He sees what he wishes to see. He wants to see his county as a land of opportunity, but fails to see how that is not true for everyone. Genna thinks “Maybe he can do that ‘cause he’s old and white.” And then there are those who choose not to see people at all. Genna meets a woman called Nannie by the family she works for. She’s worked for them six years and they don’t know anything about her and they don’t use her given name. Nannie is nearly invisible to them unless she does something displeasing.

Audrey: There was a lot of commentary on looks, too, especially how it could be used for/against someone in the past. Paul’s biracial status and lighter complexion get a lot of commentary from Genna, Judah, and others throughout the books, both positively and negatively. In the second book, his heritage keeps him from enlisting with the white troops (he’s not white enough) and the black troops (he’s not black enough, and they know white people will attribute any success of his if he were an officer to his whiteness). Judah also got some negative commentary for wearing his hair in locs, too

Karimah: I find it interesting that you both picked up on looks in both these novels. As a light-skinned loc wearing Black woman, comments on looks & the concept of Blackness happen for me on any day ending with a Y. For me, I didn’t see either as a commentary but as what Black people from all over the diaspora deal with. It’s how we all see the world and what authors of color mean when we tell white authors that if you’re going to write a PoC, you better do your homework. While PoC’s don’t want to think about race 24/7, our skin color, our hair does require us to look at the world differently and sometimes take note of it, as Genna does when she makes a comment about the old man.

Crystal: What I love about historical fiction is learning about the time period through the eyes of a character. It makes it seem more personal and relatable. There was so much history in this book that never made it into my history classes and texts. I appreciated learning more about the Draft Riots and Weeksville. Time travel is not usually my preferred reading, but seeing contemporary life contrasted with the past was an excellent way to see how some things have changed, stayed the same, or are just called by another name.

Jessica: I went into this book having not read much about it at all, so I wasn’t expecting the twist of time travel — which I’m pretty happy about. The parallel stories of Brooklyn then and now bring clarity to both ends of history. It was fascinating to see Genna’s modern sensibilities and experiences play out way in the past.

Audrey: It was great to see the Draft Riots and Weeksville. I remember hearing about the draft riots in my history classes, but from what I recall, it had always been framed as a rich versus poor thing. The racial aspects of it had been completely glossed over. Getting Genna’s perspective on the past was powerful because she was able to point how much and how little things had truly changed. Whenever that kind of commentary pops up in time travel fiction, I love it.

Karimah: One of my favorite books of all time is Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which Elliott’s series greatly reminds me of. I know many black folk (including myself) have often theorized how we would handle being sent back 150 years ago when our lives would be in danger, and these two books and Butler’s, do a great job of answering that question. Judah’s and Genna’s different responses to their situations shows the variety of reactions I think those of us who live now would experience if we traveled back in time. Judah believes that rising up against slave masters would be so easy and has to learn the hard way that it’s not. Genna decides to take a softer approach and try to change people from the inside, and realizes that it doesn’t work as well. She does, however, become more empathetic to Nannie and others because she learns how one must make tough choices to survive. Judah, I’m still unsure of where he is headed because he has so much anger (justifiably so) and since their story is clearly not done yet, we’ll see how he continues to grow and what he ultimately learns from his horrible experience.

Jessica: Thank goodness for sequels. And I really need to read more Octavia Butler.

Audrey: It was great to have so many female characters in these books. In my experience, history classes were almost always focused on great (white) men doing great things, and we could go several class periods between mentioning white women, let alone women of color. Wish introduced us to so many different and wonderful black women and continued their development in Door.

Jessica: Definitely agree with Audrey. Loved seeing aspects of history elucidated in the book that weren’t in, like, your average history class (sigh). As an aside, I feel like I learn much more about history through reading historical fiction/YA lit and social media. Not to knock on my fabulous high school history teachers, but many things were left out or glossed over.

Karimah: This! I feel like we got the full experience of what life was like for all women in 1863, regardless of color or economic standing. I felt like Elliot showed how much and how little power women had, and how that not just white men were “doing great things”, but women were too, just in an understated manner.

Crystal: When the first book ended, I was ready to start the next immediately. Sometimes a second book doesn’t live up to the first, but that wasn’t the case here. Genna has returned to Brooklyn just in time to experience the effects of 9/11. She is trying all kinds of things to get back to Judah. She even delves into vodou. This was interesting because she gets called on her actions of picking and choosing parts of vodou and not respecting it as a religion.

Jessica: Same! I had to get to the second book, ASAP. Situating Genna’s return within the context of 9/11 worked well with the story and added a layer of history to what was going on. Also, gotta say, I was majorly stressed about Judah the entire time. When characters are separated, I’m practically skipping pages until I see them again and can stop worrying.

Audrey: Getting called out by Peter re: vodou was a great learning moment for Genna and for the readers. It was a good reminder that you can still cause offense/harm by plowing into spaces you know little about, even if you’re from a minority group, too. Coming back to Brooklyn in the wake of 9/11 was pretty fascinating for me, especially since Genna could see the hatred brewing toward Muslims and could compare it to the draft riots she got caught up in. I really liked that she started to befriend a Muslim girl in her school and that she also pushed back against her teacher and his whitewashed version of history.

Karimah: Framing Genna’s return to Brooklyn the day before 9/11 I thought was genius because that day really sets the tone of what we are experiencing today. Many of today’s teens have no memory of that day and all the turmoil that happened after. The use of 9/11, I think, was a great device to have Genna realize that while society has made some progress, things have not changed that much and that aside from technological advances making things easier, that society’s views, it’s ugliness doesn’t really change. I feel like in the first book, she romanticized her home in her desire to return, and 9/11 was the perfect reminder for her that “home in 2001” is just as racially crazy as 1863.

Karimah: I loved that Peter called her out on the vodou. I was cringing at her cultural appropriation and her unwillingness to really see her actions for what it was, but I also like that Elliott used this moment between them to show that even PoC’s sometimes have colonists thoughts because they’ve been taught the language and ideas of the oppressors. It shows that even PoC’s make the same mistakes and often struggle with realizing that what we once believed was wrong. I feel like she will grow as she learns more and comes to respect the power that she has been given.

Audrey: I really appreciated that the second book gave us a chance to backtrack and see what had happened to Judah before he was reunited with Genna in the first book. Showing what Judah’s time as a slave was like, from the auction blocks to getting whipped to trying to escape, was absolutely brutal. While I wished sometimes that he would have more compassion for other slaves (and especially for Genna), I appreciated how relentless he was in his rejection of the “good slaveholder” narrative. The “nicest” white man he encountered still had him shipped off to be tortured into compliance when he tried to run away. Both books were filled with honest moments about how horrific slavery was, from all of Nannie’s children getting sold off to what it was like to be put on an auction block.

Karimah: I totally agree. When Judah first showed up in Weeksville in “Wish”, I was so happy yet utterly heartbroken for him because of his experience with slavery. Despite it hurting so much, I was glad that Elliott included Judah’s story in “Door.” We needed to see, feel, what he experienced and what led him to become a different person. What made him keep fighting but lose hope in humanity at the same time. My heart was breaking the entire time he was in slavery, even though I knew that he would eventually escape. In fact, that one scene where he realizes he was on the Underground Railroad made me tear up because it was just so beautifully written. I was with him in that moment to be both being in wonderment of and living history.

Jessica: Yeah, that definitely made me think of privileged people’s reactions to the marginalized when it comes to anger. Tone policing, telling people to keep quiet or forgive, and so on. As if anger, grief, and bitterness at oppression and injustice isn’t valid.

Crystal: Yes, so much of what Judah experienced was painful to even read about, and I also found that moment of realization on the Underground Railroad to be powerful.

Audrey: One of my favorite things about these books was the attention to detail. Sometimes historical fiction books gloss over the finer details in order to tell the stories of grand events (and privileged people), but I felt like I got a good look of what it may have been like to be a free black woman in 1863 New York. The book was filled with great descriptions and “throwaway” lines that really fleshed out the story.

Karimah: Again, I agree with Audrey. It’s clear that Elliott took her time and researched all she could to make her world believable. I feel like if I were to go back to Brooklyn in 1863, it would look just like Elliott described it. And even Brooklyn in 2001; I feel like she captured the tension of those days & weeks after that horrible day perfectly. The feel of CA was very different than New York, so for me, Genna’s time in 2001 really brought me back and made me understand what it was truly like to live in New York right after 9/11.

Audrey: I was disappointed that Judah punched Peter when he found out Peter was gay.

Karimah: This bothered me too and for a bit felt a little out of character for Judah, but then again I do know that within the Afro-American community that people who seem to be “woke” can also be very homophobic. When we learned how he developed his belief, I felt for him, but at the same time I felt like it would make him more sympathetic. However, all characters must have their faults and this is Judah’s. It’s not great, but it’s real and I’m glad that Elliott chose to write him this way.

Audrey: I’m still a little confused on how the time travel rules work. I hope that’s explained in a future book (please say there will be another!) because right now I’m pretty confused. I don’t understand how or why Genna is bringing/not bringing people with her, and that has been bugging me. Did any of you figure it out?

Karimah: The only person I didn’t figure out was when she initially brought Judah with her. The others, I gather it’s a proximity thing, and as she get’s stronger, her pull is stronger and if people get within a certain range, she pulls them through. At least that’s how I figured it out in my head, but I’m confident that Elliott will answer that for us in the next book, because there has to be a third book. She can’t leave it with a cliffhanger!

Jessica: I was wondering that, too. Looking forward to finding out more… in the third book! 😀

Crystal: Like Karimah, I just figured it was proximity. Time travel always boggles my mind so when it’s part of the story, I try to let my thoughts slide away a bit and blur out the details. I believe at least one more book is planned so maybe more will be explained then.


Thank you for stopping by the discussion. We’d love to know your thoughts about A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads so please share them in the comments.

Bonus: We were able to interview Zetta Elliott earlier this week so be sure and stop by tomorrow to learn more about her books and writing journey.

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Book Discussion and Giveaway

wish door

In August we announced our September book discussion. We’re reading A Wish After Midnight and the sequel The Door at the Crossroads right now and will post a group discussion about both books near the end of September. These are fascinating books and we’d love for others to be involved in the discussion. If you’re reading along, please join us by tweeting about the books using the hashtag #Zettasbooks. If you don’t use Twitter, feel free to comment on any of the posts here related to this specific book discussion. We’ve used the tag Zettasbooks with our posts.

Zetta Elliott was generous enough to provide three copies of The Door at the Crossroads to be used in a giveaway. Please enter below if you would like to win a copy.

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Join Us for a Group Discussion

We’re happy to announce a group discussion for next month. We’ll be reading A Wish After Midnight and the sequel The Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott. Our plan is to read both books and start our group discussion in early to mid-September. Near the end of September we’ll post our discussion. We hope you’ll join us in reading one and/or both of the books. Share your thoughts with us next month or on Twitter as you read. We’re excited to jump into these books and look forward to hearing from you.
wish
A Wish After Midnight

Fifteen-year old Genna Colon believes wishes can come true. When Genna flees into the garden late one night, she makes a fateful wish and finds herself instantly transported back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

 

door

The Door at the Crossroads

Do you know what your heart most desires?

One summer night, Genna Colon makes a fateful wish that sends her and her boyfriend Judah spiraling through time. They land hours apart in the city of Brooklyn—and in the middle of the Civil War. Genna is taken to the free Black community of Weeksville, but Judah suffers a harsher fate and is sent to the South as a slave. Judah miraculously makes his way back to Genna, but the New York City Draft Riots tear them apart once more. When Genna unexpectedly returns to her life in contemporary Brooklyn, she vows to fulfill the mandate of sankofa: “go back and fetch it.” But how will she summon the power she needs to open the door that leads back to Judah?


 

If you want to know more, check out this great review from Lyn Miller-Lachmann.

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Book Discussion – Urban Tribes: Native Americans in the City

Urban-Tribes
Urban Tribes: Native Americans in the City – edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
Published by Annick Press

Publisher’s blurb: Young, urban Natives powerfully show how their culture and values can survive—and enrich—city life.

Much of the popular discourse on Native Americans and Aboriginals focuses on reservation life. But the majority of Natives in North America live off the rez. How do they stay rooted to their culture? How do they connect with their community?

Urban Tribes offers unique insight into this growing and often misperceived group. Emotionally potent and visually arresting, the anthology profiles young urban Natives from across North America, exploring how they connect with Native culture and values in their contemporary lives. Their stories are as diverse as they are. From a young Dene woman pursuing a MBA at Stanford to a Pima photographer in Phoenix to a Mohawk actress in New York, these urban Natives share their unique perspectives to bridge the divide between their past and their future, their cultural home, and their adopted cities.

Unflinchingly honest and deeply moving, contributors explore a wide-range of topics. From the trials and tribulations of dating in the city to the alienating experience of leaving a remote reserve to attend high school in the city, from the mainstream success of Electric Pow wow music to the humiliation of dealing with racist school mascots, personal perspectives illuminate larger political issues. An innovative and highly visual design offers a dynamic, reading experience.


Most of our posts are focused on novels, so for this month we decided to take a little time with a different format for a change. A few of us were able to get review copies via Netgalley and will share some of our thoughts about Urban Tribes here.

Crystal: Lisa Charleyboy (’Tsilhqot’in from Tsi Del Del), one of the editors, explains, “We’re diverse in our opinions, lived experiences and points of cultural connection but similar in our desire for defining our identity and creating culturally safe spaces in our communities and our cities.”

This collection really highlights the diversity of urban Natives. I appreciate the many ways that the contributors used to express themselves. There are essays, but it delivers more than essays. As with Dreaming in Indian, the variety of formats makes this collection stand out. People contributed poetry, artwork, photo essays, interviews and more.

Charleyboy mentions that “desire for defining our identity.” This can clearly be seen in the photo essay by K.C. Adams titled ‘Perception.’ Each person has two photos of themselves featured side by side. One is labeled with a racist remark and one is labeled with terms they’ve used to define themselves. It’s a powerful collection. To see the photo essay, visit K.C. Adams’ website here.

I really appreciated the essay by Neebin Ishkoday (Oji-Cree)  about her time moving from the reserve to Thunder Bay and the racism she faced there. The racism inspired her to become an activist. She closes her essay with this, “We need to learn to speak up for ourselves–especially young people who face racism and discrimination.” Collections like this are one place that these voices can be heard.

Jessica: The thing I find most powerful about the collection is how many perspectives and voices are showcased. The focus is on “telling our stories”, as opposed to other people speaking on their behalf. Like Crystal noted, each piece in the book is different — there are interviews, articles, poetry, art, and even social media.

I liked this quote by Nicholas Galanin in particular: “Our communities change, our relationships to the land change, our local knowledge of the land also adopts and grows in urban space. We are influenced by and are part of a beautiful diversity in these urban communities. Our relationship with the land environment is real and sincere.”

Crystal: Contributor and author Michael Woestehoff (Navajo) said, “First, there needed to be more tribal citizens telling our stories from our perspective and through our eyes.” This work and the previous book, Dreaming in Indian, are perfect opportunities for tribal citizens to tell those stories.

Dr. Adrienne Keene shares her post from earlier in the year, “Dear Native Student, You are Loved.” In addition, the social media tag #DearNativeYouth is highlighted. The hip hop duo, Mob Bounce, explain that they have a responsibility to all youth. This book provided a space for young voices to be heard, but it also speaks directly to youth. It speaks of hope, community and strength.

Also, Debbie Reese’s has an excellent review of Urban Tribes here.

Karimah: What struck me most about Urban Tribes was the fact that so many of the stories shared were by folks who had encountered racism and discrimination, but didn’t let that stop them, and were also devoted to helping future generations succeed. A number of the contributors found themselves the “token” in a variety of spaces, and decided to create their own support systems. I found what the young men of Mob Bounce said, “It’s been prophesied that we are the generation that will make the necessary changes to ensure a better world for our future generations,” pivotal because a number of the stories shared in Urban Tribes were about young people speaking up – about their generation specifically, working to bring about change.

My favorite piece was the spoken word piece “Love You Some Indians” by poet Roanna Shebala. I could imagine the power and strength of her words as she wrote about how American/Canadian culture loves the ideas/stereotypes of Indians, but doesn’t actually love the people. It reminds me of Amandla Stenberg’s YouTube video that pointed out how America loves Black culture, but doesn’t love the people. I feel like if our youth like Roanna and Amandla keep speaking out, change will eventually come.

Links to some of the contributors and their work:
Chantal Rondeau – http://chantalrondeau.com/
Tasha Spillett – https://twitter.com/TashaSpillett
Devery Jacobs – https://www.facebook.com/deveryjacobs
K.C. Adams – http://www.kcadams.net/
Mob Bounce – https://www.facebook.com/mobbounce
Rowie Shebala – https://www.facebook.com/RowieShebalaPoetry/timeline
Video of Shebala performing poem “Love You Some Indians” https://youtu.be/UvvYRhU5hvk
Nicholas Galanin – http://galan.in/
Dr. Adrienne Keene – https://twitter.com/NativeApprops
Dr. Adrienne Keene’s “You Are Loved” post http://nativeappropriations.com/2015/01/dear-native-college-student-you-are-loved.html
Gabrielle Scrimshaw – includes Tedx Talk http://www.gabriellescrimshaw.com/
Virtual tour of Indian Alley – https://round.me/tour/965/view

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Group Discussion of If I Ever Get Out of Here

If I ever get out of here

If I Ever Get Out of Here was a book that caught our attention at Rich in Color, so we decided we should do a group discussion for it. Read on to see what we thought about the book.

Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him — people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home — will he still be his friend?

Acclaimed adult author Eric Gansworth makes his YA debut with this wry and powerful novel about friendship, memory, and the joy of rock ‘n’ roll.

WARNING: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THE DISCUSSION

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