Sunday, October 10, 2010

My First ARC--I Am Nuchu--Raises Questions about Who Should Tell Native American Stories

These days I'm pretty excited about a novel I just read but that won't be published until the end of November. In my wildest dreams I never expected I would procure an advanced reader's copy--ARC in publishing parlance--of a novel, and I didn't have to ask for an educator's discount. Brenda Stanley, the author of I Am Nuchu, gave it to me free! Even better, I really like the book and say so in my goodreads review: 

When his parents divorce, seventeen-year-old Cal must leave his home in Spokane and move to his mother's childhood home "The Fort" on the Ute reservation in southern Utah. The move brings additional struggles for the teen whose college plans include earning a basketball scholarship. In time Cal journeys toward self-discovery and maturity as he investigates the mysterious death of his aunt and his mother's secret past, a past that entwines Cal in the lives of his racist enemies.

Teens will identify with Cal's struggles and delight in his love of sport and romantic involvements. This is a book that offers young adults life lessons in an entertaining story that addresses traditional themes: the search for identity, finding one's place in the world, learning to forgive, dealing with loss. 

I teach in a school that is a feeder for members of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, some of whom live on the nearby Fort Hall Indian Reservation. I believe Native American voices deserve a place in our curriculum, one that acknowledges contemporary perspectives and issues that concern Native American students. Too often in American literature we end at the beginning by reading a few creation stories; if we have time, we may include Chief Joseph's famous speech, "I Will Fight No More Forever."

Frequently, contemporary Native American stories include sensitive issues and language. I have no problem with this but understand when others do. I doubt language will be an issue for I Am Nuchu. However, the question of whether or not it's okay for a white person to tell the story of a Native American teen will be, but as I write in my review, I don't think it should be. 

Although the author is not Native American, something that may be an issue for some readers, she offers a respectful portrayal of the red-rock country of Utah and its Indian heritage. Moreover, Stanley avoids posing as an expert on sacred rituals but acknowledges the importance of place and cultural identity by bringing stereotypes forward and addressing them through the characters' conversations about what our society deems important. 

I found this book surprisingly engrossing and am eager to share Cal's, his friends', and his family's stories with the teens I know. 

When I find a book that will appeal to young adults and when that book validates the concerns my Native American students have and acknowledges the problems they face, I'm not going to quibble about who wrote it. I'm just happy somebody did. 


  1. Like you, I second the need for more books about Native Americans told in a respectful manner. As long as the author treats the culture respectfully and acknowledges the GOOD AND the BAD, I don't have a problem with who writes it.

  2. Hi Glenda,

    Given the author's period of time living near the location her book is set, I hoped we'd have a wonderful book, but that isn't the case.

    My extended review is here:

    I am a professor in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois. I grew up on a reservation in New Mexico. I'm tribally enrolled, and, I've taught at two different boarding schools for Native children. I've written for Horn Book and School Library Journal.