Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2001. Rain is not my Indian name. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780688173975
Cassidy Rain Berghoff shuts herself off from the world after the death of her best friend. When her Aunt Georgia invites her to participate in Indian Camp, she cautiously steps out into the world without Galen but from behind a camera. Gradually, Rain discovers she can become an active participant in life again.
Cynthia Leitich Smith captures parts of herself in the character of Rain. Like Smith, Rain is a mixed blood, that is, part Native American (Indian, as she calls herself) mixed with a variety European heritage who grew up in Douglas County, Kansas. Throughout the book, including the title, stereotypes of Native Americans are challenged. The events presented in this book are not what one might consider “typical” for this culture. However, none of it is inaccurate.
First is the name. Rain’s name has no sacred connection; instead, it is a reminder of the stormy day her parents first met. Second is the customs. Rain and her family live in small town suburbia—not a reservation. She has a life common among American teens: school, chores, and heartbreak. A third anomaly is the family. Rain’s mom passed away, and her dad is stationed in Guam. Her grandfather, who is in Las Vegas most of the book, is in charge of Rain’s wellbeing. Rain’s older brother and girlfriend live in the house with her and watch over her. The characters do not misrepresent Native Peoples; they simply show how a modern family lives life.
Rain’s interactions with other Native Americans in the story are interesting. Queenie, known as the only Black girl in town, discovers her Native ancestry and joins Indian Camp. The significance of heritage varies in the other group members. Some closely follow Indian traditions; others have assimilated into Midwest culture.
One interesting cultural interaction is between Rain and the Flash, a local reporter with whom Rain does a story about Indian Camp. In a discussion about Rain finding it difficult to be mixed blood, the Flash brings up his Jewish heritage. Rain’s immediate response, before stopping herself is, “You don’t seem Jewish,” as if Jews had a particular look or personality. Rain stereotyped the Flash, a Jew, the way many people stereotype her Native family.
The story takes place in the fictitious Hannesburg, Kansas. The location matches the story well because the focus of the story is not solely on Rain’s culture. The main theme in the story is not how a mixed blood Indian copes in suburbia but how a teenage girl copes with the loss of a mom and best friend, a dad stationed in the Pacific, a brother who lacks communication skills, an absentee grandfather, an overzealous aunt, and a prissy turned rebel future sister-in-law. Smith discloses in her author’s note that the real Douglas County is home to some Native American communities, which gives the story more validity.
Practices that one might associate with Native Americans are missing from this story. Rain, in her journal entries, accounts of times her mother took her to powwows and Indian celebrations, but Rain does not now follow those customs. Her dad is of European heritage and encouraged his family to follow that rather than the Native customs. Even when choosing a gift for her future niece or nephew, she called the dreamcatcher “trendy” (p. 71), as in a typical or common Native American gift.
At Indian Camp, the activity the kids participated in—pasta bridge building— was more of a teambuilding event than learning about tradition or culture. While readers looking for more of a Native American experience in this book may be disappointed, others might appreciate how a strained friendship is mended while other relationships are built over less than cultural proceedings.
The layout of the books is interesting. Rain provides parts of her past through journal entries, which open each chapter. Each entry gives readers a bit of background knowledge before proceeding to the next event in Rain’s current situation.
Even with a plot lacking a grabbing climax, the reader will enjoy the journey with Rain as she gradually tears down the walls she has built since Galen’s death. It makes readers think about their methods for coping, how to encourage resiliency, and appreciating the life that is yet to live.
AWARDS AND REVIEWS
Oklahoma Book Award, 2002 Finalist Children/Young Adult
Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers Award Winner, 2001
H.W. Wilson Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Best Book, 2005
“This rendering of a contemporary family of Native American heritage is wonderfully far from stereotypical ‘dreamcatchers, the kind with fakelore gift tags.’” –Children’s Literature, 2001.
“Tender, funny, and full of sharp wordplay, Smith's first novel deals with a whole host of interconnecting issues…” –Kirkus Reviews, 2001
Using the materials described in the text on page 57, work in a team to build a pasta bridge. A class competition will determine which team created the strongest bridge. As a reflection or assessment activity, students will create a brainstorming map on Popplet (www.popplet.com) to name and describe the work contributed by each partner.
In pairs, scout out a local event (book fair, sporting event, concert, club activity, etc.) on which to report. Create a newspaper layout with the article, photographs, and even an editorial. Combine the class’s news stories to make an entire newspaper edition.
Rain mentions how “trendy” Native American artifacts, such as dreamcatchers, have become. Choose one Native American artifact to learn more about. Create an Animoto video presenting the artifact along with how it was/is used, who used it, and how/if it is used today.