Wandering Stars: A novel

by Tommy Orange

Hardcover, 2024

Call number



Knopf (2024), 336 pages


"Wandering Stars traces the legacies of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 and the Carlisle Industrial School for Indians through to the shattering aftermath of Orvil Redfeather's shooting in There There"--

Media reviews

A lyrical, multigenerational exploration of Native American oppression.... “Everyone only thinks we’re from the past, but then we’re here, but they don’t know we’re still here,” as Orvil’s brother Lony puts it. Orange is gifted at elevating his characters without romanticizing them,
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and though the cast is smaller than in There There, the sense of history is deeper. And the timbre of individual voices is richer, from Orvil’s streetwise patter to the officiousness of Carlisle founder Richard Henry Pratt, determined to send “the vanishing race off into final captivity before disappearing into history forever.” He failed, but this is a powerful indictment of his—and America’s—efforts. A searing study of the consequences of a genocide.
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Orange follows up his PEN/Hemingway-winning There There with a stirring portrait of the fractured but resilient Bear Shield-Red Feather family in the wake of the Oakland powwow shooting that closed out the previous book. The sequel is wider in scope, beginning with stories of the family’s
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ancestors before catching up to the present....With incandescent prose and precise insights, Orange mines the gaps in his characters’ memories and finds meaning in the stories of their lives. This devastating narrative confirms Orange’s essential place in the canon of Native American
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User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This is Tommy Orange's sequel to his debut novel, There There, about Native Americans living in Oakland, California. Orange first takes the story back in time, into the lives of the grandparents, great-grandparents, and further back, all the way to the Sand Creek Massacre, and then forward through
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the years of incarceration, exile and loss, to the years of struggling to make new lives without the foundations of the old in Oklahoma and on to California. Then the novel moves forward, to after the events of There There, following Orvil, Opal, Jackie and others as they deal with what happens after.

Orange's second novel is more assured but no less pointed than his first. Providing the background makes what follows more understandable and harder to deal with. It also focuses on the aftermath of a shooting, the part that isn't newsworthy, the painful recovery into a new normal with the trauma of the event left for the survivors to come to terms with, or not, with the help of weekly therapy sessions, or not. And when a family is already struggling in other ways, someone who is quiet about their pain and the ways they find to address it can go a long time without being noticed. By tying this second novel so tightly to his first, Orange has written something that will be treasured by those who read There There, but inaccessible to those who didn't. Go read There There, then come back for this one. You will not be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
When I read the first pages of Tommy Orange’s debut novel There There, I was instantly gripped, emotionally and intellectually. I was thrilled to read Wandering Stars, which takes up the same characters, beginning with the inception of the family’s trauma at the Sand Creek Massacre.

A number of
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years ago I read a book on the Sand Creek Massacre that was commissioned by the United Methodist Church as part of their repentance and reconciliation with Indigenous people; the leader of the massacre was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church when he lead the attack on a group of women, children, and elderly men.

Orange begins his novel with a survivor of the massacre. Wandering and starving, he turns himself over to the authorities only to be arrested for a crime he did not do. He takes the name Jude Star after he is indoctrinated to be Christian and learns English.

Assimilation was one of the words they used for Indians becoming white in order to survive, in order that they might not be killed for being Indians.
from Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange

The next generation finds Star’s son Charles taken to a residential school with the purpose of destroying Native culture and erasing its history. After leaving the school, Star and fellow student Opal Viola try to build a new life. But generation after generation carry inherited trauma, each struggling with issues of identity, lost heritage, and substance abuse. The latest generation includes Orvil Redfeather, who was shot while dancing in his first Pow Wow, as told in There There.

It is an engrossing read with wonderful characters and storytelling, and a disturbing read as we are immersed in the experiences of these characters and are reminded of the horrendous acts against humanity that shaped our country.

Thanks to the publisher for a free book.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
This sequel to Native author Tommy Orange's brilliant 2018 debut novel There There stands up well next to the original - at least, the second half does. The first half recounts the difficult lives of Sand Creek Massacre survivors, their passages through the notorious Carlisle Indian School, and the
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family's migration to Oakland. The second part deals with the aftermath of a shooting at an Oakland Powwow, the conclusion of There There, when young teenager Orvil is left mortally wounded and addicted to painkillers, and his grandmother, great aunt, and two brothers are almost as devastated and unable to return to their prior modicum of happiness. The novel's focus on addiction and a life of recovery also demonstrates the strength generated by family love and acceptance and by friendship and by music and by simply living outside. We are solidly in the heads of grandmother Opal, Orville, and his younger brother Lony, and the pages so strongly convey their highest hope and deepest despair.
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LibraryThing member msf59
“Birds see the best of any creature with a spine, are sacred because they soar the heavens, and with just one of their feathers, and some smoke, prayers make it to God.”

“Kill the Indian, save the man”

The Red Feather family were first introduced in Orange’s terrific debut There There. In
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his new novel he traces the family back to the Sand Creek Massacre that occurred in the Colorado Territory in 1864. It then follows the family through the next century and a half, touching on the Indian boarding schools and various injustices pressed upon Native Americans. Sadly, addiction problems also haunt the family. The rest of the story takes place in Oakland, 2018, as the remaining matriarch, Opal Viola Bear Shield tries to keep her troubled, family together.

I applaud Orange’s ambition here but sadly it doesn’t all work. It was difficult to connect with any one character in the historical section. It came across a bit dry. The modern day section was a bit smoother and engaging but the relentless addiction issues several of these characters were going through, made the narrative flow stall out at times. This is Orange’s second novel so I have high hopes, that he will take his obvious talent and deliver another gem.
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LibraryThing member Unreachableshelf
A bit less focused than the author's first book, but both the historical and relatively contemporary portions are well crafted, moving, and full of fascinating characters.
LibraryThing member mykl-s
This was not an easy novel for me to read, but at the same time is engrossing and important. It’s full of raw, uncomfortable truths, heartaches, addiction, depression, but also gives us stories of recovery, family, perseverance, and hope.

I had to skip and skim through the first third, knowing
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about the history of violence and repression and genocide, with all the horrible things that happened to Native Americans and still continue to happen, with all the horrors I didn’t have the nerve to read in detail.

The remainder of the book, the story of the family built by the two sisters Opal and Jacquie, the two "grandmothers" for the three Red Feather brothers, was heartrending but beautiful.

Orange has the skill to weave his stories together while sometimes skipping from character to character, from time to time, or place to place without, somehow, ever breaking continuity.

Much happens inside someone’s head, in a stream of consciousness in the first person, or even with their words told by an outside observer. Much is told skillfully in dialogue that shows more than the words themself say. Orange is instructing us while entertaining us, in ways that just feel right.
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LibraryThing member ozzer
What does it mean to be an oppressed minority in a land where your people have lived for centuries? How can you contend with a government bent on your extermination and stealing your homeland? How can you define an identity when the dominant group fails to recognize your culture and traditions or
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sentimentalizes them for entertainment? Can you attain a sense of belonging from family ties and ancestral connections? Should you actively rebel or passively check out with substance abuse? Echoes of these questions arise repeatedly in places where versions of genocide have been practiced. In this remarkable novel, Tommy Orange focuses on how these questions reverberate in the Native American community.

He views the issues through the lens of one indigenous lineage—Star/Bear Shield/Red Feather—and follows it over a century and a half. He begins with the unprovoked and brutal massacre of indigenous people by US troops in 1864 at Sand Creek in Colorado Territory. He follows this atrocity by telling of the unjust incarceration of Indians under inhumane conditions in St. Augustine, Florida, and their re-education at Indian schools, where Native children often were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused under the guise of forced assimilation. Although the telling of these events is important for understanding the historical context of the story, this half of the book is less nuanced than the latter that deals with descendants living in Oakland, California. This part takes up where Orange’s previous novel ended—with the random shooting of Orvil while dancing at a powwow. The matriarch, Opal, is now caring for her ne’er-do-well half-sister, Jacquie and her three grandsons, Orvil, Loother, and Lony. This part of the novel follows these characters as they contend with the myriad of issues facing indigenous people today.

Orange uses a non-linear structure with frequent shifts in narrative style and perspective. Moreover, he reiterates his themes in multiple contexts. Although these approaches can be unsettling for readers, Orange succeeds in creating fully formed and nuanced characters along with enough action to be fully engaging. One can’t help but leave this novel with new insights into the complex nature of life as a Native American in the United States today.
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LibraryThing member Narshkite
All the Indian children who were ever Indian children never stopped being Indian children, and went on to have not nits but Indian children, whose Indian children went on to have Indian children, whose Indian children became American Indians, whose American Indian children became Native Americans,
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whose Native American children would call themselves Natives, or Indigenous, or NDNS, or the names of their sovereign nations, or the names of their tribes, and all too often would be told they weren’t the right kind of Indians to be considered real ones by too many Americans taught in schools their whole lives that the only real kinds of Indians were those long-gone Thanksgiving Indians who loved the Pilgrims as if to death.

Honestly, one of the best books I have ever read. I worried Orange could not match the brilliance of There There. It turns out he topped that book. This is being billed as a sequel to There There, but mostly it is not exactly that. Parts are both sequel and prequel to the last book. There there had such a clear plot, but this, not so much. This is a bigger picture look at how Indgenous Americans started and got to where they are now than it is any sort of There There series book.

Certainly a lot of the specific events are set in motion by the events of the Powwow in There There, but also it becomes clear that event is part of a chain of events, really indistinguishable from a chain of events that have been happening since Europeans landed on American shores. The nonlinearity of this book is one of its strengths, much of this is manic and uncomfortable, and that feels right. This approach to illustrating the abnegation and extermination of Indigenous American culture, and also, of course, of Indigenous Americans should not be linear, and it certainly should not be comfortable. I was surprised to find it had a bittersweet but hopeful ending. Every living thing needs to adapt to survive, but as long as we don't allow that adaptation to disappear us there is hope for survival. This is a a book about survivors, who hold on to their essence against all odds. but who also lose many very important connections to things and people no matter how hard they fight.

I read a lot so some books, even ones I enjoy a great deal, are mostly forgotten. That is okay. Forgetting plots or characters does not mean I did not retain things of value from those reads. But though that forgetting does not bother me, reading a book like this that I know will stay with me, likely forever, is an experience beyond those others, and is truly a privilege.

I listened to the audiobook but also got the Kindle so I could go back and read sections. That worked well for me. This was read by several narrators, and I thought all but one were very good, and even that one was adequate. The language here though is so often perfect and utterly unexpected that I wanted to spend more time with it than audiobooks allow. If you are a fan of great prose make sure to read this in print, or at least do as I did and give yourself access to the print version even if you listen to most of this.
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LibraryThing member LindaLoretz
Tommy Orange is a modern Native American author whose previous book, There There, was a Pulitzer runner-up and won other distinguished awards. His writing style is random or wandering, but his message is clear. He wants readers to understand how many ways the United States government has tried to
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eradicate the Natives from the land. He essentially writes a survival story for his people, the Cheyenne and Arapaho, and all Native Americans who have maintained a sense of identity through the generations.

A Washington Post review claims the book Wandering Stars "explores a legacy of trauma that flows through a Native American family." That sums up this historical fiction story. Tommy Orange's fictional characters experience actual events in a way that forces readers to consider the efforts to exterminate natives throughout American history. Through this author's eyes, we see well-known historical figures such as Teddy Roosevelt in a new light.

Jude Star, a character who survived the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, gets sent to a Florida prison and meets up with Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian School, where Indians were expected to assimilate and, of course, lose their cultural identity. Jude's name seems to remind us of another genocide, and although Jude survives, he is mute, and his descendants feel the trauma in multiple ways.

Jude Star's son, Charles, is sent to the Carlisle School a generation later and experiences the same brutal treatment as his father. Charles meets Opal Viola, and together, they hope to build a life free from the harsh treatment they experienced. The story covers several generations of Jude's and Opal's descendants still struggling with addictions, persecution, and misunderstood identity.

Through the book's episodes, the characters experience torment by white people's efforts to civilize, Christianize, and assimilate them. From the Native point of view expressed in this novel, whites will not be satisfied unless Natives become white. Opal's great-nephew, Orvil Red Feather, a character from Orange's previous book, is a main character in this one. Orvil views Opal as his grandmother and relies on her as well as his biological grandmother, Jacquie, an alcoholic. Orvil is the survivor of a gunshot wound in 2018 and addicted to painkillers. He befriends a boy named Sean, who is a Native and Black, adopted by white parents. Their bond is based on the trauma they seek to navigate. Both hunger for knowledge of their heritage and realize that the past is always with them. In essence, these younger members of the multigenerational family in Wandering Stars demonstrate that the past will always be with their people.

If you are looking for a book where the plot follows a predictable line and ends with closure, this book is not for you. There is much movement from different timeframes and more questions than answers. Orange's carefully chosen language will move you as he tries to find hope, spirituality, identity, and solutions for his characters, who represent his people.
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LibraryThing member booklove2
I remember my main complaint with 'There There' was that it seemed rushed to being published and I thought I was seeing problems. I was willing to revisit the characters from 'There There' in this book! The theme here is addiction in all forms, which is certainly an important topic for a book. I
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see what Orange is doing, but the writing, the plot, even the sentences are just so disjointed, disconnected, scattered.... which I bet is entirely the point that Orange is trying to make, unless it is just his writing style that is like this to me. The book overall is just okay for me. I want to love Orange's writing more than I do (which I think is actually a sentence in this book somewhere). I am just not the reader for his books but I so wish I was! I'm glad he is getting readerly support elsewhere, anyway! But I AM GLAD I read this at least for one very specific reason...... the mention of Return to Oz on page 133!! I have loved Return to Oz forever. You mean this movie really exists in the world and not just in my brain?!?
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LibraryReads (Monthly Pick — February 2024)




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