Smith, Cynthia Leitich. Rain Is Not My Indian Name. NY: Harper Collins Publishers.
B. Plot Summary
Losing your best friend to a fatal accident is bad at any age, but when combined with the angst of becoming a teen, the emotional turmoil is enough to cause one to hide from the world for at least six months, and that is just what Cassidy Rain Berghoff did. But after six months of near seclusion, Rain has to decide how involved she will be when a politically correct controversy in her town regarding "Indian Camp" run by her own aunt clashes with her desire to remain neutral despite her own American-Indian heritage.
C. Critical Analysis
While Rain Is Not My Indian Name was written by an author who is a "mixed-blood" member of the Muskogee Nation, the novel does not provide many "traditional" Native American elements. The setting of the story is in the fictitious town of Hannesburg, Kansas in today's modern times, complete with laptop computers, fast food, and lemon-fresh furniture polish.
However, what is noticeably brought out are the conversations between Rain and the college student with whom she works on the newspaper assignment covering the Indian Camp. The conversation includes The Flash's asking Rain why the kids at Indian Camp were building bridges. He thought the bridge must have been some kind of tradition or symbol of Indian beliefs or culture.
Rain had a hard time explaining that the bridges had nothing to do with Indians, that it was just a team work assignment given by the sponsor, her aunt.
Parallelisms were shown when The Flash confessed that he was Jewish and Rain begins to respond with, "But you don't seem..." then realized that she was about to slip into the same attitude that she herself had been subjected to by people telling her that she "didn't seem" like a Native American.
Cultural names are not used unless a Native American group name was mentioned, and no other cultural markers were used save the discussion on what it was like to be American-Indian or Jewish in Hannesburg, Kansas.
Rain Is Not My Indian Name is not so much a novel about being Native American in modern middle America as it is a novel about rediscovering oneself in the midst of all life throws at you. Many tees will be able to understand Rain's need to redefine herself after the untimely death of her best friend.
D. Review Excerpts
Publishers Weekly Multiple plot lines and nonlinear storytelling may make it difficult to enter Smith's (Jingle Dancer) complex novel, but the warmth and texture of the writing eventually serve as ample reward for readers. The sensitive yet witty narrator, 14-year-old Cassidy Rain Berghoff, grows up in a small Kansas town as one of the few people with some Native American heritage. That experience alone might challenge Rain, but Smith creates a welter of conflicts. Rain's mother is dead (she was struck by lightning), and as the novel opens, her best friend is killed in a car accident just after he and Rain realize their friendship has grown into romance. Six months later, her older brother urges her to go to her great-aunt's Indian Camp. At first she shrugs it off, but later volunteers to photograph the camp for the town paper and begins to share her Aunt Georgia's commitment to it. When public funding for the camp becomes a contested issue in the city council, Rain decides to enroll. Some of Smith's devices such as opening each chapter with a snippet from Rain's journal add depth and clarify Rain's relationships for readers, although other elements (the detailing of song lyrics playing in the background, for instance) seem stilted. Even so, readers will feel the affection of Rain's loose-knit family and admire the way that they, like the author with the audience, allow Rain to draw her own conclusions about who she is and what her heritage means to her.
School Library Journal Rain and Galen have been friends forever, but for Rain's 14th birthday, the thrill of finding that her burgeoning romantic feelings are being reciprocated puts the evening into a special-memory category. The next morning, she learns that Galen was killed in an accident on the way home. Plunged into despair, Rain refuses to attend the funeral and cuts herself off from her friends. Skipping to six months later, the main portion of the story takes place as she thinks about Galen's upcoming birthday and summer plans are complicated by the girl's Aunt Georgia's Indian Camp and political efforts to cut its funding. Rain participates in nothing and her family members, loving though they are, seem preoccupied with their own needs and concerns. Gradually, Rain's love of photography resurfaces and lands her an assignment with the local newspaper. She becomes involved in examining her own heritage, the stereotypical reactions to it, and her own small-town limitations. There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. As feelings about the public funding of Indian Camp heat up, the emotions and values of the characters remain crystal clear and completely in focus. It's Rain's story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her "patchwork tribe."
If students are willing, allow them to role-play various situations which demonstrate conversations between individuals of different ethnic groups and the way in which to answer questions about them and their nationality.