Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Debbie--have you seen 24 HOURS IN NOWHERE by Dusti Bowling?

A reader wrote to ask if I've seen 24 Hours in Nowhere by Dusti Bowling.

It is due out on Sept 4, 2018 from Sterling Children's Books. Here's the description (from Amazon):
Welcome to Nowhere, Arizona, the least livable town in the United States. For Gus, a bright 13-year-old with dreams of getting out and going to college, life there is made even worse by Bo Taylor, Nowhere’s biggest, baddest bully. When Bo tries to force Gus to eat a dangerously spiny cactus, Rossi Scott, one of the best racers in Nowhere, comes to his rescue—but in return she has to give Bo her prized dirt bike. Determined to buy it back, Gus agrees to go searching for gold in Dead Frenchman Mine, joined by his old friends Jessie Navarro and Matthew Dufort, and Rossi herself. As they hunt for treasure, narrowly surviving everything from cave-ins to mountain lions, they bond over shared stories of how hard life in Nowhere is—and they realize this adventure just may be their way out. Author Dusti Bowling (Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus) returns to the desert to create a gripping story about friendship, hope, and finding the power we all have within ourselves.

The description doesn't say that Rossi is Tohono O'odham, but the reviews do. The reviewer at Kirkus, said this:
Although Gus is careful to point out that Rossi is Tohono O’odham, and later Rossi reveals some factoids about her heritage, his fascination with her dark ponytail and her general inscrutability reinforce stereotypes—as does the obviousness of the setup.

On the Edelweiss site, I am able to see the first pages. The main character, Gus, is being held down by the bully, Bo and his sidekicks, Jacob and Matthew (p. 3-4):
"Let him go, Bo," a voice said from behind me. Not just any voice--an unusually deep, raspy voice. A voice I would recognize anywhere.
"Go away, Rossi. This doesn't concern you," Bo said.
"Yeah, this doesn't concern you." Matthew echoed Bo. 
"Yes, it does," Rossi said. "You're angry I beat you again this morning, so you're taking it out on someone smaller and weaker than you. You're pathetic."
I pursed my lips. "Not that much small and weaker," I muttered.
"You're pathetic," Bo said. "Why don't you do us all a favor and go back to Mexico?"
I gritted my teeth. I tried to turn my head out of his grasp, but he gripped my hair tighter.
"Are you for real?" Rossie said. "You do realize not all brown people are Mexican, don't you?"
"Oh, excuse me," Bo crooned. "Then go back to the reservation."
"Yeah, go back to the Navajos," Jacob added, and I heard him and Matthew snicker together. What a couple of suck-ups.
I ground my teeth so hard, it was a wonder they hadn't already turned to dust like everything else around us. "She's Tohono O'odham, not Navajo," I grumbled.
Those opening lines... "go back to Mexico" and "go back to the reservation" are spoken by bullies. We're not supposed to like those guys. In a way, they're a modern form of Mrs. Scott, in Little House on the Prairie, saying "the only good Indian is a dead Indian."

With the "go back to Mexico" line,  Bowling (the author) is clearly playing on present-day politics and the hate that the current US president has emboldened in so many people. But does it work? If you happen to be Native, or if you happen to have roots or family in Mexico, those lines may sting.

I am also curious about the mine the characters go into. How is that mine presented?

When the teens are trapped in that mine and talk about their worst day ever, what does the Native character talk about? What about Jessi, who is Mexican American?

I've requested a copy of the book. If I get it, I'll be back with my thoughts on it.


Ava Jarvis said...

Looking forwards to seeing more on this book. My parents were refugees from the American-Vietnam war, and though I was born in the place currently called the United States and have the most Midwestern-White of accents, I grew up knowing intimately that large segments of the population didn't like me, as in "go back to Vietnam, [insert slur here]". There's a lot I'm not going to go into, but as a child, even reading these words in the mouths of fictional bullies stung. Especially since some authors have a real hankering for redemption arcs that require no real apologies or work to do good from their characters.

Some might say, "Well then how are kids supposed to learn about the bad things people say?"

And like. I learned because those words got thrown at me in real life when I was younger than ten. Maybe there should be a better way for kids to learn about this stuff.

Basically I think this is the type of issue to be discussed in that level of detail with adults who can immediately let a kid know that this stuff is wrong. In a book, leaving the words ambiguous is an opening for a conversation that takes place somewhere safe, rather than to a ten year-old reading their homework for the night, alone.

E. Ternes said...

There is such a tricky line to balance between not prettying up the racism of white characters and just having them throwing their hurtful language around without some indication of the narrator's or other characters' push-back. For what it's worth, in the scene Debbie quotes, a few lines later the bully gets Rossi to give him her dirtbike and then paints over its name with the letters "t r a s h e e p." There's a kind of hilarious moment of realizing he was trying to write "trash heap." The scene drives home that he's not just villainous but also ridiculous. I'm still reading, but one of those redemption arcs seems unlikely at this point.

I'd always thought of books as a way to learn about these sorts of things that was "safer" than real life--there's that famous quote about fairy tales not teaching children that monsters exist (they already know), but rather that they can be defeated--but it sounds like it really didn't work that way for you, Ava. I will have to ponder that, I think.