This book was on my radar even before it was a Cybils finalist, won the Golden Kite award, and turned up on over a dozen “best of” lists last year. I was so excited when I finally got my hands on it, and it did not disappoint.
by Darcie Little Badger. Illustrated by Rovina Cai.
Levine Querido, 2020.
Read ebook on Libby. Audiobook also available.
Elatsoe – Ellie for short – is a Lipan Apache girl growing up in the present day in a world just slightly different than ours. School, cell phones, cars – check. But she, like her Six-Great Grandmother whose name she shares, can raise the spirits of dead animals. Modern-day Ellie’s near-constant companion is her dog, who died several years ago. Her best friend Jay is distantly related to Oberon, with the pointy ears to prove it, even if he hides them, and having some family troubles being stuck in the middle as his older sister is dating a vampire.
When Ellie’s dog wakes her with his howling one night, she knows something is wrong. She finds out what it is later that night when she dreams of her cousin Trevor, telling her that he was murdered, by whom, and where. The police, though, think it was a simple car accident. This is the part where I’d expect her to go off and investigate on her own without telling her parents. But Ellie has been raised to respect her elders, so when she starts investigating, it’s with the full support of her parents – even if they do urge her to be very careful.
What Ellie and her team uncover is not simple murder, but a twisty mystery with roots tangled in centuries of white supremacy…
I loved so very much about this story, from its grounding in Lipan Apache culture to the easy way that Ellie states that she can’t see herself ever being interested in dating and proceeds to have a romance-free adventure. Her relationships with her parents, Jay, and the interesting dynamic with her cousin’s young widow, Lenore, who is Mexican-American and unknowingly violating important Apache traditions around death. Also, a baby and an adorable ghost dog! Ellie’s ties to her namesake Six-Great Gran are also very important, shown through many conversations about her and stories of her life, illustrated in pencil at the beginning of each chapter. I read this with a great deal of enjoyment, and passed in on to my mother, who was delighted.
Other exciting, modern-day fantasies that confront racism include Legendborn by Tracy Deonn and A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is a post-apocalyptic Native thriller, while Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith is contemporary Native teen fiction.