Literary Fiction Book Review: Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange

Published by The Connected Reader on

Friends! I’m just getting to a full review of Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange, which was our March Read Along book. I meant to get this posted by March 30, but here we are. Y’all know how things go when life is life-ing. If you missed it, The Connected Reader community is doing a monthly Read Along in 2024. Our April book is Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work by Reshma Saujani.

Literary Fiction Book Review: Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange

Wandering Stars is literary fiction in two parts. The first section takes the reader through several decades in the life of an Indigenous family in the United States, starting in the 1800s. The second part takes us to members of the same family in present-day Oakland, California. This part of the story revisits the characters from Orange’s debut novel, There There, and picks up where that story ended. Through both of these parts, Orange explores identity, trauma, and addiction.

What Worked For Me

What was working in this book, for me, was the preface – I totally agree with Traci, the interviewer from The Stacks podcast, that I’d love to read a collection of nonfiction essays from Orange. I also appreciated Orange’s bare, yet ornate writing throughout. His descriptions, what he says and doesn’t say, the propulsion and then the pause, are all so beautiful. Like Annie and I talked about on our Instagram live, we can’t wait to see what comes next from this author. I wonder if there is even more to say in this story, perhaps even from the perspective of the two younger brothers featured in the second part. And now that I’ve adjusted my expectations, I’m ready for whatever comes next.

What I’m Curious About

The biggest challenge I had reading this book was me. I came in having loved There There – it was such a beautifully written and developed story that had such frenetic energy building to a devastating ending. And Wandering Stars is a different book, which was hard for me to adjust to. Weeks after finishing it, I have more appreciation for it. The first part has the epic feel of Pachinko or Homegoing (which Orange mentioned in this podcast interview I listened to) and I wanted more from this part. I could see a world where this was the whole book. The second part delves so much into the intersection of pain, identity, and addiction and I wanted this section to expand, too. It felt like there were two great books squeezed into one, but maybe that’s the point; as an Indigenous person in the United States so much of your identity has been shaped by forces outside of your control, and you are constantly making sense of how to put the pieces back together for yourself and your family.

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