When researching for book reviews, I go to sources like Goodreads and see what other readers have said about the book in question. Sometimes, they’ll praise novels that I didn’t find all that interesting. It’s not that it was bad; it’s just that I didn’t really connect with it as much as I would’ve hoped. This sometimes happens because of the book itself, my expectations on it, or both. I’ve been thinking a lot about this ever since I read the reviews for Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith – a book that I liked but didn’t connect with it all that much.
Rain is Not My Indian Name is about Cassidy Rain Berghoff – a mixed race Native American girl, who, on the eve of her 14th birthday, loses her best friend and possible boyfriend Galen. For six months, she shuns herself from the outside world until controversy arises with her Aunt Georgia’s Indian camp in their mostly white community in Kansas. She goes back into the real world by taking photographs of the campers for the town newspaper. Soon after, Rain has to decide how involved she wants to be with the camp. Should she keep a professional distance from the inter tribal community that she belongs to? And how will she connect with the other campers after her great loss?
The reasons that I didn’t really get attached to the novel were because of the multiple subplots and the expectations that I set for it. The book itself is 135 pages, yet there are a lot of minor stories going on in the background. These include the rift between Rain and her second-best friend Queenie – a black girl who dated Galen prior and whose great-grandfather was Seminole – and Rain’s brother becoming a father. Normally, I wouldn’t have an issue with this if the book was longer. For example, The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati is 768 pages, and it too, contains a lot of minor plots. The difference between that and Rain is Not My Indian Name is that the former has the space to develop all the plots while retaining focusing on the main one. With the latter, it felt like the subplots were so crammed into the novel that the major story got lost.
The second reason why I didn’t relate to it as much is on me. After I read the blurb for the first time, I immediately thought that the book was going to be a slightly sanitized version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky since the main characters in their own ways shun themselves from the outside world after the deaths of their friends and loved ones. After reading Rain is Not My Indian Name, I came to the conclusion that it was like that, except the situations were similar to the ones shown on kids’ tv shows like her camera accidentally destroying the noodle bridge that the campers were building. Again, I felt that it could’ve been better with less subplots. It didn’t help that I partly rushed through the book, when in hindsight, I should’ve taken my time with it.
I feel that I would’ve enjoyed the novel more if I didn’t assume what the book was going to be like because there was some really good material in it. Rain is Muscogee Creek-Cherokee and Scots-Irish on her mom’s side, Irish-German-Ojibway on her dad’s. She details subtle experiences of racism and white privilege, while not being perfect herself. When she finds out that the newspaper intern is Jewish, she comes very close to saying that he doesn’t look like one, something that she hears on an almost daily basis regarding her Native American heritage.
In addition, I liked how there weren’t any neat resolutions. Rain will never know how Galen truly felt about her and what he was thinking when he and Queenie broke up. It also might take a long time before she is able to move on from Galen’s death. Who knows what will happen with her.
Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith is a good story that I couldn’t quite connect to because of the reasons mentioned above. Despite that, it contains realistic Native American characters and situations. I would recommend this novel to those who are looking to read stuff with Native American protagonists. Even though it’s only 135 pages, I would also let them know to take their time with it. There’s a reason why slow and steady ultimately wins the race.
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