Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Rain is Not my Indian Name. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001. ISBN 006029504X
Cassidy Rain Burghoff has a patchwork heritage (Muscogee Cree-Cherokee, Scots-Irish, and Irish-German-Ojibway) but considers herself Native American. By her own words, her family is “St. Patty’s Day Irish and Bierfest German.” (p.73) However, how she views the world is shattered when, on her holiday birthday, her best friend dies.
The somewhat choppy narration (which includes excerpts from Rain’s journal) does a good job of leaving the interpretation to the reader. As Rain struggles with who she is as a person and as one of the few Native Americans in town, the reader is given a chance to see the confusion without knowing the conclusion. Despite the tear-jerking moments (or perhaps because of them), this 135 page book begs to be reread.
This modern novel shows the struggle of being proud of your heritage while not wanting to make a splash. At some point, one of those has to forfeit to the other.
There is great respect towards the Native Americans in the novel as well as nods to how they are typically viewed. For example, Rain buys a dreamcatcher for her unborn niece. Despite knowing the Ojibway boy she was buying it from, Rain still implied the dreamcatcher might be one of the “fakelore” ones that were made in bright colors without respect for the tradition.
One highly amusing and thought provoking moment that would be a good springboard for teens is near the end of the book. Rain and the journalist intern, the Flash, are discussing heritage and Indian Camp. During Indian Camp, the teens built a pasta bridge that Flash has been wondering about. When he asks Rain she answers simply, “Indians build bridges.” This confuses Flash. It doesn’t match with what he thinks he knows about Native American culture. Shortly after finding out Flash is Jewish, Rain finally admits that, “All I know about Jewish people, I learned from Fiddler on the Roof.” (pgs. 115-116) This opens the door for teens to explore what it really means to be a modern Native American, Jew, Irish American, or even native Texan. Views on heritage may vary from person to person, but everyone has some kind of heratige.
Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers Award-2001 (Winner)
Kirkus—“ Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay, Smith’s first novel deals with a whole host of interconnecting issues, but the center is Rain herself…Her response to Galen’s death is tied to her tentative explorations of her own mixed Native American and German/Irish heritage, her need and desire to learn photography and to wield it well, and the general stirrings of self and sex common to her age.”
Children’s Literature—“ What follows is a summer of turmoil and realization, in which Rain is forced to come to terms with the tragic events she has lived through, the world in which she lives and her sense of self. Smith (author of Jingle Dancer) portrays a protagonist with a genuine voice and an appealing sense of humor. Aunt Georgia’s red hair, Grampa’s notes from Las Vegas, pasta bridges and all, this rendering of a contemporary family of Native American heritage is wonderfully far from stereotypical “dreamcatchers, the kind with fakelore gift tags.””
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews .May 2001. (Vol. 69, No. 9). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=978-0-688-17397-5
Krishnaswami, Uma. Children’s Literature. Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=978-0-688-17397-5