Rain is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Bibliographic Information: Leitich Smith, C. (2001). Rain is Not My Indian Name. New York, NY: HarperCollins.  ISBN: 0688173977.  144 pages.

Plot Summary: Cassidy Rain Berghoff knows about loss.  Her mother died when she was eight and her best friend, Galen, just died, on New Year’s Eve, the night before Rain’s 14th birthday.    Rain is a “mixed blood” American Indian, “I’m Muscogee, Creek-Cherokee and Scots-Irish on Mom’s side, Irish-German-Ojibway on Dad’s,” (Leitich Smith, 2001, p. 20).  She lives in a small town in Kansas with her brother and his fiancée and her grandfather.  Her father is in the military stationed abroad.  Living in a small, mostly white, town, Rain has had to face prejudice and stereotyping.  She explains that in school most talk of Native Americans comes up around “Turkey Day,” as she calls it.  Her response?  “I usually get through it by reading sci-fi fanzines behind my text books until we move on to Kwanza,” (Leitich Smith, 2001, p. 13).  This is a young woman who knows who she is and does not let others define her.  With the loss of Galen, Rain has put herself in a self-imposed exile for months, but when anti-Indian prejudice is expressed around Rain’s Aunt’s Indian Camp summer program, Rain has to decide how to respond.  She does so with grace, strength, and sensitivity.

Critical Evaluation: Leitich Smith lets us enter Rain’s world via Rain’s witty, sensitive, voice, and through journal entries at the start of each chapter, that add authenticity to the novel.  The writing is warm and appealing and the story deals with complex real-life issues for which there are no easy answers.  Readers may take the journey with Rain, as she attempts to figure out who she is and what her culture means to her.  This novel gives reader,s who are not familiar with contemporary Native American lives, a window into one family, dealing with every day life, facing anti-Indian prejudice, and celebrating the richness and gifts of their cultures.  Many novels with Native American characters are historic novels, keeping Native Americans locked in the past.  Beverly Slapin of Oyate sums up the book’s coverage of Native American issues, “Smith (Muscogee/Creek) deftly tackles such dominant icons and artifacts as football mascots, fake dreamcatchers, Elvis, and Anime and places them in a contemporary Indian cultural context alongside fried bologna sandwiches, two-steps, and star quilts,” (Slapin, 2001, p. 116).  This book was an Oklahoma Book Award Finalist; for this title Smith was selected to be part of the 2001 Writers of the Year in Children’s Prose by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Reader’s Annotation: Six months ago, Rain’s best friend died and she’s been in a self-imposed exile ever since, but when anti-Indian prejudice is expressed regarding her Aunt’s Indian Camp summer program, Rain has to decide how — or IF — to respond. 

Information about the Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith writes books for all ages, from young children to young adult and adult.  She has published picture books in addition to short stories, essays, and young adult novels.  Leitich Smith’s website (http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/) is a wonder of resources for readers and writers.  It includes recommended reading lists, advice for those interested in becoming writers, and extensive information about Leitich Smith and her writing.

Leitich Smith is genuinely interested in the world and people around her and generously shares her talents and insights.  She is a tribal member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and some of her works include authentically portrayed American Indian characters, something that is unfortunately often lacking in books about American Indians.  She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, also a writer, Greg Leitich Smith (http://gregleitichsmith.com/).

Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Issues, Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction

Subgenres/Themes: Multicultural Fiction: Multicultural Americans: Native Americans; Issues: Social Concerns: Activism, Racism; Contemporary Life: Coming of Age

Curriculum Ties: Civil Rights, Discrimination

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Identity Development
  • Young Adult Activism

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 17

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? This book is included because of its critical praise as well as its subject matter.  There are not that many books for young adults about contemporary American Indian life.  And, though the main character is fourteen years old, the content is relevant for older teens as well, and the writing is accessible for older teens at a lower reading level.

References:

Leitich Smith, C. (2001). Rain is not my Indian name.  New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Slapin, B. (2001). Rain is not my Indian name. MultiCultural Review, 10(3), 115-116.

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