Smith, Cynthia Leitich. 2001. Rain is Not My Indian Name. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 006029504x.
At the beginning of Rain is Not My Indian Name, Rain is celebrating New Year's Eve and her fourteenth birthday with her best friend Galen. On his way home Galen is hit by a car and dies. Rain becomes depressed and distances herself from family, friends, and activities she previously enjoyed. As Galen's Fourth of July birthday approaches Rain begins to realize that she needs to regain her life. Rain gets a job as a photographer for the newspaper, taking photos of her aunt's summer Indian Camp. After experiencing the Indian Camp funding controversy and family troubles she is able to come to terms with Galen's death, make new friends, and become a supportive family member.
Different cultural markers exist in Rain is Not My Indian Name. The book provides an interesting look at Native American life from the perspective of a girl with mixed heritage. Rain is Muscogee Creek-Cherokee and Scots-Irish from her mom's family and Irish-German-Ojibway from her dad's family. In one of Rain's journal entries she says that her father never talked about their Ojibway blood and that her grandmother "called herself "just Irish" or "black Irish" everyday of her life." These journal entries, which are at the beginning of each chapter, provide the reader with information about Rain's family as well as memories from Rain's past. They help to personalize the story and bring depth to Rain's character.
People who do not know Rain often do not realize that she is an Indian since she has a light complexion, light brown hair, and hazel eyes. Rain describes her brother, Fynn, as a "Native American Fabio." Rain says that people will often ask them what they are and will tell her that she doesn't seem Indian to them. She assumes that their view of Indians "involves construction-paper feathers, a plastic paint pony, and Malibu Pocahontas." When Flash, the reporter she is working with, questions her knowledge of Indians in the community she is annoyed and tells him, "I should know how many Indian live in Hannesburg. It's not that big of a town, and I'm one of them. Me, my brother, my uncle, Aunt Georgia, and the Headbirds."
The other cultural presence in the small town of Hannesburg is Rain's ex-best-friend Queenie's family, which is black. In one of Rain's journal entries she shares a memory of Queenie from when they were five. Rain had asked if she could touch Queenie's braided hair. The journal entry says, "It was the first time I'd ever touched a black person's hair. I'd been curious about how the texture might feel under my fingertips." At another point in the story Rain remembers when Galen had asked her if she would ever date someone who was black. He and Queenie had been dating and he seemed worried about how his mom would react. Rain said she would date someone who was black, but remembered her family saying that it was only okay to be friends with a black person, nothing more.
Rain's complete name is Cassidy Rain Berghoff. In a journal entry she says, "Rain is not my Indian name, not the way people think of Indian names. But I am Indian, and it is the name my parents gave me. They met for the first time at Bierfest, during one doozy of a thunderstorm." Rain's grandfather calls her Rainbow. The Indian name that does have importance in the story is Aiyana. It was Rain's mother's name and is going to be the name of her brother's baby when it is born. Rain shares that "Aiyana is an old name, a musical name. My mom's name, after her Cherokee great-grandmother. It means "forever flowering.""
Rain is presented as an ordinary American girl. She eats a wide variety of American foods. She attends a Baptist church. She is a fan of science fiction. She has a laptop and uses the Internet. She wears jeans and high tops and paints her fingernails black. Rain loves photography so she always has her camera with her. Even after she gives up her photography job so she can join the Indian Camp, the newspaper says she will still be able to work for them on other projects.
Rain does want to stay connected to her Indian culture. She looks forward to the trip being planned for the Indian Camp so that she can learn more about her Ojibway heritage. There are two items that hold a special meaning to Rain. One is her mother's traditional tear dress. The dress was still hanging in her mother's bedroom where her mother had left it right before she died. When the room is being remodeled she finds that someone has saved it for her and placed it in her own room. In a journal entry she shares her memory of her mother and the dress. She says, "I can still smell the pork cooking, taste the lukewarm coleslaw, hear the songs, and feel the rhythm of the shell-shakers. I remember ribbons and tear dresses and me trying to dance like Mama."
The other special item is the necklace that Galen gave her on her birthday. The necklace is a small suede pouch in the shape of a half-moon with seed beads hanging from it. She remembers seeing it during the summer on a Lakota trader's table at a powwow in Oklahoma City. Galen had secretly bought it for her and saved it for her birthday. After Galen dies she is unable to wear the necklace and keeps it hidden away. She finally begins wearing it as Galen's birthday approaches and she is able to stop dwelling on his death.
"There is a surprising amount of humor in this tender novel. It is one of the best portrayals around of kids whose heritage is mixed but still very important in their lives. As feelings about the public funding of Indian Camp heat up, the emotions and values of the characters remain crystal clear and completely in focus. It's Rain's story and she cannot be reduced to simple labels. A wonderful novel of a present-day teen and her "patchwork tribe." " -School Library Journal
Have students find information to share about Rain is Not My Indian Name or Cynthia Leitich Smith on the author's web site, http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/index.html.
Share the books listed on Smith's web site on the page If you liked Rain you might like... at http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/CLS/cyn_books/rain/rain_youmightlike.html. She lists photography, newspaper, grief & healing, Internet, Native American, and interracial books.