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Review: ‘Thunder Song: Essays’ by Sasha taqʷšǝblu LaPointe

New collection explores identity, trauma and creative expression

Sasha taqʷšǝblu LaPointe's new essay collection, "Thunder Song: Essays," was released on March 5. (Photo courtesy of Blaine Slingerland)
By Christine Perkins CDN Contributor

Sasha taqʷšǝblu LaPointe has been on many local reading lists as her debut book, “Red Paint: the Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk,” is the 2024 Whatcom READS selection. LaPointe is visiting Whatcom County March 14–16 and participating in a variety of events that are free to the public – check for tickets. 

Her visit coincides perfectly with the launch of her newest book, “Thunder Songs,” a collection of essays that give a counterpoint to, play off of, and dive deeper into themes she explored previously in “Red Paint”: her identity as an Indigenous queer woman, the impacts of multigenerational trauma, and the role of art and music as an outlet for rage and creative expression.

LaPointe’s new essay collection dives deeper into themes she explored previously in “Red Paint,” the 2024 Whatcom READS selection. (Image courtesy of Counterpoint LLC)

LaPointe kicks off the collection by channeling her namesake, her great-grandmother, the indomitable Vi Hilbert. After dedicating her life to the study and teaching of the Lushootseed language, Hilbert had the idea to commission a symphony based on two spirit songs. One of the songs was a family song. The other was Chief Seattle’s thunder song.

Standing on the stage at Benaroya Hall for the premiere of “The Healing Heart of Lushootseed,” 83-year-old Hilbert intoned, “People have lost their way.” Her hope was for the healing medicine of the music to help guide people forward. 

LaPointe juxtaposes Hilbert’s powerful vision with the grief and anger she felt after the murders of George Floyd and so many others at the hands of police, and the protests that followed. She recalls the fear and uncertainty of the first year of the pandemic, particularly acute for her due to her asthma. She describes her anxiety on Election Night 2020, wondering if she would ever feel safe again. She notes that it was a song — a Ramones tune strummed by her partner as a distraction while the election results came in — that transported her, lifted her spirits and gave her hope.

In “Reservation Riot Grrrl,” LaPointe shares her mixed feelings about the riot grrl movement: so important to her personal development, yet also so exclusionary to people of color. In “The Jacket,” she remembers being obsessed with mermaids as a child — and the cruelty of a white classmate who mocked the off-brand jean jacket her mother lovingly embellished with a picture of Ariel in fabric paint. 

In “River Silt,” LaPointe recalls her uninhibited joy playing in the mud along the Nooksack and resolves to allow herself to feel this joy again. Another heart-rending essay is “Licorice Fern,” where LaPointe fearlessly explores her complicated relationship with her mother, and ultimately lands in a space of forgiveness and healing.

After the string of abusive relationships recounted in “Red Paint,” LaPointe appears to have found a partner who accepts her contradictions, honors her deep ties to the Pacific Northwest and celebrates her talents as an artist. That she feels loved and supported is evident. Whether one reads “Thunder Song” cover-to-cover or one-by-one as discrete essays, the overall impression is one of honesty, precise observations and love. “Thunder Song” is further evidence of a star on the rise, well worth following.

Christine Perkins is executive director of the Whatcom County Library System,

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