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Where the Dead Sit Talking
Cover of Where the Dead Sit Talking
Where the Dead Sit Talking
2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FICTION FINALIST
Set in rural Oklahoma during the late 1980s, Where the Dead Sit Talking is a stunning and lyrical Native American coming-of-age story.
With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care with the Troutt family. Literally and figuratively scarred by his mother's years of substance abuse, Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface. At least until he meets seventeen-year-old Rosemary, a troubled artist who also lives with the family.
Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American background and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah's feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.
2018 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FICTION FINALIST
Set in rural Oklahoma during the late 1980s, Where the Dead Sit Talking is a stunning and lyrical Native American coming-of-age story.
With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care with the Troutt family. Literally and figuratively scarred by his mother's years of substance abuse, Sequoyah keeps mostly to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface. At least until he meets seventeen-year-old Rosemary, a troubled artist who also lives with the family.
Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American background and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah's feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book I have been unhappy for many years now.
    I have seen in the faces of young people walking down the street a resemblance to people who died during my childhood.
    The period in my life of which I am about to tell involves a late night in the winter of 1989, when I was fifteen years old and a certain girl died in front of me. Her name was Rosemary Blackwell. It happened when she and I were living with a family in foster care, and though the details are complicated, I still think about her often. I'm alive and she's dead. I should tell you this is not a confession, nor is it a way to untangle the roots and find meaning. Rosemary is dead. People live and die. People kill themselves or they get killed. The rest of us live on, burdened by what is inescapable.


    We left Cherokee County when I was young, and like our ancestors, my mother and I traveled out of the land with our clothes and food in sacks. We traveled through the fierce shreds of a winter storm, following a highway north into the night. We drove slowly, ice spattering the windshield. My mother talked quietly to herself, both hands on the wheel.
    Maybe it was in our Cherokee blood. My great-grandfather had once traveled alone to the desert plains to meet spirits, fire and water, the two gods of hunting. He was lonely when his wife died and sought isolation, desiring a communion with nature. For food he hunted buffalo and deer, built a scaffold of poles and used it to dry fruit in the sun. He slaughtered hogs. In his solitude he was strong and worked hard, seeking the peace of his ancestors. He built fires in the night and spread ashes on his chest. He slept in the branches of bitter oaks.
    My mother told me these stories about my great-grandfather while driving us to Tulsa in her El Camino. Like him, I too believed in the spirit world. Like him, I tried to see the spirits in everything around me: the trees, the open plains, the sky. I searched for them in clouds and rain. I looked into the faces of strangers and questioned whether they were messengers for me. I waited to hear their voices, as my great-grandfather had heard in his dreams. Voices that told secrets, foretold the future. Voices that brought messages. My great-grandfather claimed to have met a beautiful spirit woman. He was exhausted from traveling and welcomed the sight of her. She wore long braided hair that hung down to her breasts. She appeared to him in the desert and brought him quill baskets full of food. Her eyes were fire. She held
    my great-grandfather's gaze, kissed his hands, and fell into a long, deep sleep with him.
    My mother and I were alone, too. My father had left us, packed up his jeep and headed west to find God. I never knew him. My mother said he joined a group of missionaries and went down to Mexico. He'd had a couple of other kids before he married my mother, but I didn't know them and it didn't matter. We never heard from him again.
    I was their only child. They named me Sequoyah, meaning sparrow, after the great teacher who developed the Cherokee language. My mother said she should've named me Yellow Sky, because I was always there to bring her light, like the dawn. Back then I was too young to understand her drunkenness. When she left me alone and went out at night, I fell asleep in her bed, waking later to the noise of her coming into the room.
    "Go to sleep," she told me, pulling off her boots. She collapsed onto the bed and fell asleep in her clothes. In the mornings I was there to bring her a wet washcloth and a glass of water. I was there to bring her food or medicine for her head and stomach. I never understood her sickness in the mornings back then.
    ...
About the Author-
  • Brandon Hobson is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, and his writing has appeared in such places as Conjunctions, NOON, The Paris Review Daily, and The Believer. He is the author of Desolation of Avenues Untold, Deep Ellum, and The Levitationist. Beginning Fall 2019 he will be an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at New Mexico State University. He is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe of Oklahoma.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2017

    Pushcart Prize winner Hobson's (Desolation of Avenues Untold) latest is a coming-of-age story set in rural Oklahoma in 1989. The story is recalled by Sequoya, a 15-year-old Cherokee who had a difficult childhood. With his mother in jail, he moves in with Harold and Agnes Troutt and their two other foster children, George, a 13-year-old aspiring novelist, and Rosemary, a 17-year-old fellow Native American and artist with her own unpleasant past. As Sequoya tries to adjust to his new surroundings, he and Rosemary bond as they share their troubled histories, darkest secrets, and premonitions about the future. Readers are told early on that Rosemary has died but are left in the dark as to the cause until the end. Hobson's grim portrait of rural America is filled with unsavory characters who attempt to derail Sequoya's adolescence, as well as those pushing to get him through. VERDICT Though the characters could have been more compellingly drawn and the conclusion is somewhat anticlimactic, Hobson's eloquent prose and story line will keep literary and general fiction readers turning the pages. Its teen protagonists offer interest for young adults. [See Prepub Alert, 8/21/17.]--David Miller, Farmville P.L. Admin. NC

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 11, 2017
    The latest from Hobson (Deep Ellum) is a smart, dark novel of adolescence, death, and rural secrets set in late-1980s Oklahoma. After his mother is jailed for drug charges, 15-year-old Sequoyah becomes the foster child of Harold and Agnes Troutt, a middle-aged couple already fostering 13-year-old George and 17-year-old Rosemary. Sequoyah shares a bedroom with the quirky George, who sleepwalks and sometimes communicates via handwritten notes, and bonds with Rosemary over their shared Native American heritages—he is Cherokee, she Kiowa. As the pair grows close, Sequoyah falls for Rosemary’s charm and fantasizes about both hurting and becoming his foster sister (“We shared no physical attraction but something else, something deeper. I saw myself in her.”), who has a history of self-harm. Sequoyah also learns of Harold’s illegal sports bookie business from his foster siblings, and the lure of Harold’s hidden sacks of rolled hundred-dollar bills, tucked safely in a backyard shed, tempt all three children with the possibility for trouble, excess, and freedom, which drives the novel’s second half. Hobson’s narrative control is stunning, carrying the reader through scenes and timelines with verbal grace and sparse detail. Far more than a mere coming-of-age story, this is a remarkable and moving novel.

  • Kirkus

    A man looks back on 1989, the year he was 15, when he was living in a foster home and a girl who was also living there died in front of him.That's no spoiler: Sequoyah tells us about Rosemary's death within three sentences of the start of his tale. "I have been unhappy for many years now," he begins, then tells the story of how his mother went to jail on a drug charge and, after a stint at a shelter, he wound up living with the Troutts, Harold and Agnes, and their two other foster kids, the eccentric George, 13, who was prone to sleepwalking, and 17-year-old Rosemary, who shared Sequoyah's Native American heritage and liked to talk about death. They lived in rural Oklahoma, and the quiet suited them all; the Troutts were kind people, and everyone in the house liked to be by themselves a lot, with Agnes going for drives, Harold napping in the basement where he surprisingly ran an illegal bookie shop, George lying on his bed meditating, and Rosemary heading to the woods with a drawing pad. Sequoyah used to get in trouble at the shelter for slipping out at night to take walks, so he fit right into this house full of secrets and relative freedom. Hobson (Desolation of Avenues Untold, 2015, etc.) writes in a spare, even tone, and no matter what Sequoyah says--even when it's about feeling dead inside, or about wanting to hurt someone--the reader is with him, empathizing. As in a Shirley Jackson story, everything seems perfectly ordinary until it doesn't. "Why did the entire town seem to have the same strange habits?" Sequoyah wonders. Hobson is in masterly control of his material, letting Sequoyah relax into the welcoming Troutt family home while glimpsing the menace behind the curtain. Or is the menace just inside him?A masterly tale of life and death, hopes and fears, secrets and lies.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Online Review)

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