Hi, I’m Valerie Mendoza with Humanities Kansas with a book byte about Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson, a Radio Reader selection for this fall’s theme: Navigating Uncharted waters.
This book is a coming-of-age story about Sequoyah, a Cherokee boy growing up in rural Oklahoma in the late 1980s. Most of the book takes place when Sequoyah is 15 and has been in foster care for a few years because his mother is in prison for possession of drug paraphernalia and driving while intoxicated.
I’m still trying to digest it two weeks after finishing it because it seemingly has no resolution, which I found frustrating. This is illustrated by two lines. The first is the book’s opening line, “I’ve been unhappy for many years now.” And the second is from the last page of the book, “’I don’t know who I am.’”
Each of these poignant lines speaks starkly of adolescence—that time in life when one tries to figure out life’s purpose. Sequoyah’s life is far more complex than mine ever was. I had the privilege of growing up in a two-parent household and never had to face the reality of being forced to live with complete strangers—size them up, adapt to their routines. All of this at a time when one tries to establish autonomy and independence.
I was born into the household I lived in while a teenager, grew up knowing the routine. Indeed, I helped to establish the routine and family culture. I already knew seemingly inconsequential, but actually huge details about my parents. For example, my mom liked to lay down and rest for a few minutes when she came home from work, and my siblings and I knew not bother her. My dad prepped his coffee before going to bed so that all he had to do in the morning was push the “on” button and could therefore sleep a few extra minutes.
In order to feel like he was in control of something, despite his turbulent life, Sequoyah focuses on his appearance. He dons eye liner for his first day at his new school, drawing the predictable stares and whispers. Maybe he figured, “if people are going to stare at and whisper about the new kid anyway, I’ll give them something to stare at.” I, on the other hand, tried to avoid the stares and whispers of my fellow high school students.
At other times he reverts to another teenage tactic—hiding out in his room or wandering off alone in town or in the woods to be by himself. The desire for privacy is one thing I remember about my own teenage years.
As I read this book I also wondered about the historical trauma of this Native heritage. What must it be like knowing that your people were forcibly moved from one area to another? That your ancestors survived the Trail of Tears? That they had to endure it at all? Surely, this played into his mother’s alcoholism and drug use.
The book provides a poignant portrait of Sequoyah’s teen years, but I was left wondering how he turned out as an adult.
I’m Valerie Mendoza for the Radio Readers Book Club. To participate in the conversation, go to the Radio Readers Facebook page HPPR Radio Readers