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Multicultural Literature for Youth

Native Am. Lit #2

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Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2001. Rain is Not My Indian Name. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 0-6881739-7.

 

Fourteen-year-old Cassidy Rain Berghoff lives in a small Kansas town and is one of the few people with Native American heritage. (She is “Creek, Cherokee, Ojibwa, Scots-Irish, and German” VOYA, 2001). Coming to terms with her minority status and heritage is only one of the many challenges Rain faces in this YA novel. As the story opens, Rain spends a tender New Year’s Eve and birthday with her best friend, Galen, for whom she is beginning to have romantic feelings. Later that night, Galen is killed in a freak accident. Still recovering from her mother’s death two years ago, Rain avoids Galen’s funeral and “barricades herself in grief” for six months by avoiding friends and activities (VOYA, 2001).   That summer, Rain’s Aunt Georgia decides to start an Indian Camp. Rain decides not to join, but she agrees to take pictures of the camp, reawakening her long-time passion for photography.  What follows are various family, personal, and community conflicts involving funding for the camp. Rain works through the struggles and emerges wiser and ready to participate in life.

 

The strongest part of this novel is Rain’s voice, which is funny, vulnerable, honest, and often wise. Readers feel that they know Rain well by the last page. When hearing there were not-so-nice rumors about her and Galen on their last night together, Rain says, “Now I knew what had been dished about me under hair dryers at Bernadette’s Beauty Salon…The whole time, I’d thought people were saying I was dangerously depressed, maybe self-absorbed, never scintillating” (99).

 

The weakest aspects of this novel are that much of the plot seems contrived and that Rain is the only character who seems three-dimensional. This reveiwer finds it unlikely that Galen would die immediately after he and Rain exchange their first kiss. Because the purpose of the Indian camp is nebulous, the reader has trouble getting emotionally involved in the community conflicts about the camp. Additionally, it seems overly convenient that Rain is hired as camp photographer and that Rain takes over Galen’s birthday issue because the newspaper editor gets sick. Mrs. Owen, Galen’s mother, is one-dimensional, and we do not get to know any of the other characters well.  Reviewer Laura Woodruff writes, “Except for Rain, who deals with racial and emotional issues, character development and plot are superficial” (VOYA, June 2001).

 

Smith includes the following cultural markers: food, dress, education, names, skin color, some facial features, housing, and ceremonies, dance, music, storytelling, and religion. However, the last five cultural markers are mentioned but not explored in depth. Smith does not refer to language/dialect or forms of address. Rain eats wild rice soup on July 4, and she admires her mother’s “traditional tear dress” (21).  Before marriage, her mother studied at an Indian school in Kansas Rain’s friend, Dmitri, may have a Native American name; Rain says that “Rain is not (her) Indian name” (20).  Rain mentions that her skin color is lighter than her brother’s coloring and that people often ask her, “How much Indian are you?” (48). She also says she has hazel eyes “pinched at the corners” (22).  As a child, Rain attended powwows and stomp dances with her mother, and she can still “hear the songs,” “feel the rhythm of the shell-shakers,” and recall the “echoes of stories” (120).  

 

The novel has two themes that make the work relevant to young people. Teens dealing with death, grief, and grief recovery will find Rain to be a realistic role model. Many young people also will relate to the second theme, growing up biracial and/or bicultural and wanting to know more about one’s heritage.