I Am Nuchu by Brenda Stanley
After Cal's parents get divorced, his mother gets full custody of Cal, Doran and Rachel. Cal a senior in high school is the oldest. The four move back to the Utah reservation Cal's mother grew up on. They move in with Raymond their grandfather. Cal is half native American. Though he has never been exposed to that part of his heritage. When Mona was a teenager, her sister Jackie died under mysterious causes. Cal is detemined to find out what really happened.
When they get to the reservation, Cal doesn't like what he sees.
"Cal waved his hand to quiet her and grunted. He walked past the three of them and toward the town, then stopped and studied the area intently trying to find something redeeming. There had to be a nice part of town he thought. But as he searched , all he found were dismal signs of poverty and distress" (p14, arc)
I had many issues with this story. One was how much Cal could find nothing of worth at the reservation and the fact that he said it over and over again. My problem isn't so much that Cal found it lacking, any teenager up rooted from their home after a divorce , isn't going to like the new place. My problem was there was no character there to speak up for the reservation to match Cal's passion for what was wrong.
"That guy sounded drunk or stoned." Cal scoffed, "It's so weird here. This place sucks." Doran shifted in his seat, and commented, "Maybe the rest of the area is better. We haven't even seen anything outside of the reservation. "It can't all be like this" They pulled onto the highway west for the town Roosevelt. Small, beat up looking houses dotted dusty open spaces. Fences made of rusted barbed wired and twisted wood sectioned off parcels of land Cal couldn't imagine anyone wanting."- (p29, arc)
"Cal heard talking and laughter as he entered. In the kitchen stood a large Indian man, his hair was long and tied back in a braid, and two Indian women sat at the table. As Cal entered the room, Mona quickly turned toward the sink. The room became quiet as Cal walked over to Mona, who kept her back to him as she tired to hide a beer bottle in the sink." (p35, arc)
"What are you doing?" It's 10 in the morning!. Cal asked amazed. Mona remained silent, unable to face him. As Cal grabbed her arm and turned around, the beer bottle clanked against the sink, making the two women at the table jump. "What are you doing, Mom?" Mona pulled away and said, "Whatever I want Cal," Cal slammed his hand against the wall and he pointed toward the women at the table, "This is why we've never been to this hellhole before. I can't believe you made us move here." (p 35, arc)
I was really surprised that the author had the mother drinking by page 35. Though on the upside at least the author didn't portray the Native American characters as too lazy to get up in the morning to drink. They were up and going way before noon. I know I shouldn't be so flippant, I am just very frustrated by this story.
Was I harder on I Am Nuchu because the author was White? No, my expectations were the same. However I did go in with an, the author better prove this is authentic attitude. Stanley lost me on page eight.
"Doran searched the road ahead of them. "Where's Mom?" he asked.
"She's up there. She's mad at me."
Cal shrugged flippantly, "We stopped about an hour ago for Rachel to pee. You slept through it. I asked her if she was going to try and date the Indian chef or start over with the butcher or the baker."
Doran shook his head. "Why do you have to say things like that? Dad was no angel, either." Cal scoffed, "Whatever, but at least he'd never bring us to Podunk, Indianville, Utah"
"Where else could she go? This was her home. Aren't you even a little curious about what this place is going to be like?
"Look around." Cal said, cutting Doran off. "This place is hell. " What about Grandpa? Aren't you curious about the Indians" (pgs 8-9)
Reading that again, I realize Doran was suppose to be the one who tried to see the good in things. But it was not enough for me, especially with the ending. If you thought its butcher and baker line that got under my skin, the first time, you'd be wrong. Though not liking it much now. But what caught my eye was "Aren't you curious about the Indians"
I didn't like the wording of the question, even more so when I replaced Indian with other ethnicity's. As it is the question makes it look like the brothers are insensitive outsiders. Cal and Doran being half Indian should be reflected in that question. I would've been more than okay with "Aren't you curious about your Indian heritage" or something along those lines.
I know some people think this a small distinction not even worth mentioning. But sometimes its the little things that make all the difference. That one moment told me where this story was headed.
- Cal talking with his grandfather -
"But what about the young people? Why don't they take up the fight? Why do you have to do it"
"The young people don't understand the history, Cal. Many don't care or want to learn our traditions, and now I'm afraid they'll be lost forever."
"They won't be lost if you write them down. Aren't there books on this stuff?"
"There are. But most of them are written by people other people, writers who are not us. (pg190)
The irony of that last line was not lost on me espeically since every single stereotype about Native American is in this story. And of course at one point Cal feels like he is soaring in the sky like an eagle.