Murder Mysteries and Native American Culture Intertwine in these YA Debuts

Stockbridge Community News would like to extend a warm welcome to Shuyler Clark—the newest writer to join our team. Shuyler is an avid reader and loves to write, which makes her a perfect match for “Reading Between the Lines,” our new book review column. Welcome Shuyler—we’re glad you found us! 

by Shuyler Clark

In an industry long dominated by Euro-centric narratives, new perspectives often make for refreshing reads. These two recent young-adult debuts provide just that: gripping, character-driven stories that don’t shy away from harsh realities.

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

In this 2020 novel, myth coexists with reality on an alternate Earth (think government agencies for vampires and faerie-ring transportation). Elatsoe, or Ellie for short, has the ability to raise ghosts from the underworld, a gift she mostly utilizes to play with her deceased dog, Kirby. In a psychic dream, Ellie learns of her cousin’s untimely death: what appears to be a car accident is actually a murder. Accompanied by Kirby and her friend Jay, Ellie sets out to the town of Willowbee in search of evidence to convict the killer.

Though categorized as young adult, Elatsoe” is a heartwarming novel suitable for children and adults alike. Easy-to-follow prose makes it a quick, accessible read without losing any of the mystery and suspense. Although it would benefit from better integration of magical aspects, the plot makes up for these shortcomings with fun, witty characters and inventive action. Depictions of the different settings are especially stunning, creating vivid scenes that flesh out otherworldly events. Also, be sure to look out for the story hidden in each chapter heading’s whimsical art drawn by the talented Rovina Cai.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Daunis Fontaine’s community has always held her at arm’s length; as a biracial teen living in Sault Ste. Marie, she has never felt like enough for either her father’s Ojibwe tribe or the Zhaaganaash on her mother’s side. When she witnesses a murder-suicide, she becomes a confidential informant for the FBI, searching for whoever is distributing highly addictive methamphetamine in her community. For all her caution, Daunis can’t escape the dangers that lurk around every corner, some of which threaten her own life.

Boulley paints a luscious portrayal of Sugar Island’s Ojibwe culture, blending Anishinaabemowin vocabulary and detailed ceremonies with the shenanigans of high schoolers and college students. Each twist carries emotional weight, aided by sympathetic yet realistic characters. An open ending is satisfying enough for a standalone novel and leaves room for interpretation, particularly in the romance department.

Summary

Both of these titles serve as entertaining stories, but they also yield crucial reminders to readers: Native Americans, women in particular, still face constant bigotry and injustice in today’s society. Boulley and Little Badger present readers with these realities while providing hope for their communities, something that makes these debuts truly beautiful.

 

Shuyler Clark is a graduate of Stockbridge High School and Lansing Community College. When she is not reading or writing, she can be found snuggling with her birds.

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