larry p. madden | yl voice | dec. 2017
Choctaw folklorist, writer and speaker Tim Tingle is a true storyteller in the Indian tradition. Tingle has told a version of the “No Name” story to audiences around the world, including at the Kennedy Center and the Library of Congress. He knows the story and its power to connect with people well and this book shows it.
This version is set in an abusive home in modern Oklahoma. This would be a very touchy subject at any level, but the fact that this version was written for young audiences speaks to Tingle's talent. In it, protagonist Bobby Byington's world has crashed in on him. Saddled with an abusive father after his mother, unable to stand any more of his father's behavior, left — Bobby becomes the catcher's mitt of emotions. Bobby strives to live and believe that his situation is the norm. Deep inside he knows better, his father's emotions spill over into physical abuse, leaving Bobby questioning his self-worth.
This story relies on many traditional aspects of Indian life including generational pain, tribal prejudice and inter-tribal jealousy. It also draws on traditional values such as storytelling, loyalty, respect of elders and love. Tingle weaves these aspects together to pull the reader deeply inside Bobby's confusion. The established evil elements are set on a headlong collision course with healing forces and Bobby is merely a pawn along for the ride. With his world spinning out of control, friends attempt to steady the orbit where Bobby is trying to survive.
With the teenage market squarely in Tingle's sights, his story is short enough for a youngster to get the message, yet interesting enough, to hold them to the end. Some of the more poignant parts of the story drew a tear from this reviewer. This surprised me as I didn't realize how engaged I had become with the story. The adolescent period, as we all know, is filled with angst and self-doubt. Tingel's storytelling abilities are a great fit for capturing the weight of these moments.
This book is part of the Pathfinder Series, which produces books featuring Native people for teen readers. This is an admirable undertaking in its own right, but with authors like Tingle and Abenaki writer Joseph Bruchac penning the tales, it's a series worth looking into. Native kids should be able to read great stories about other Native kids. This series is invaluable.
Larry P. Madden (Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin) was born and raised in the Sturgeon Bay area. A recent graduate of CMN, he enjoys the Powwow trail and strives to maintain balance on the red road.