After an embarrassingly long amount of time and more than a few half finished post, I am finally back with Top Ten Tuesday! This week theme is, of course, American Thanksgiving and I thought that I would switch things up a bit and write about books written by Native North American authors.
My first five years of teaching was in schools with a nearly 100% Native student body (I am going to say Native here because my school in Alaska was in a Yu’pik village and they do not consider themselves Native American). So while I love the food (check out this article of it’s history) and camaraderie of Friendsgiving I also think that it is important to remember that the cute myth of the first Thanksgiving is deeply problematic (here is an article where a Fifth Grade girl figures it out). In short, Thanksgiving as a American story isn’t necessarily one to celebrate. In addition Native representation in literature is has historically been and for the most part continues to be: 1) extremely limited 2) vaguely, carelessly, to barefacedly racist.
We can do better than that. First steps? Seeking out and reading literature by Native authors. Here are a few of my favorites and a couple that I don’t have my hands on yet but am looking forward to.
The Marrow Thieves
by Cherie Dimaline
So you are bored with dystopia, you say? Well, let me just suggest that maybe we need to read some new voices. And maybe give up the love triangles. This book is genuinely upsetting when you recall that enforced boarding schools, running away, and scientific experiments on Native children is something that has already happened.
In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the "recruiters" who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing "factories."
House of Purple Cedar
by Tim Tingle
Tim Tingle has a whole backlist of great books but this one is my favorite. I know that magical realism can be very off putting to some people but it is woven so seamlessly into this story that I think even those who aren’t fans would like this book.
"The hour has come to speak of troubled times. It is time we spoke of Skullyville." Thus begins Rose Goode's story of her growing up in Indian Territory in pre-statehood Oklahoma. Skullyville, a once-thriving Choctaw community, was destroyed by land-grabbers, culminating in the arson on New Year's Eve, 1896, of New Hope Academy for Girls. Twenty Choctaw girls died, but Rose escaped. She is blessed by the presence of her grandmother Pokoni and her grandfather Amafo, both respected elders who understand the old ways. Soon after the fire, the white sheriff beats Amafo in front of the town's people, humiliating him. Instead of asking the Choctaw community to avenge the beating, her grandfather decides to follow the path of forgiveness. And so unwinds this tale of mystery, Indian-style magical realism, and deep wisdom. It's a world where backwoods spiritualism and Bible-thumping Christianity mix with bad guys; a one-legged woman shop-keeper, her oaf of a husband, herbal potions, and shape-shifting panthers rendering justice. Tim Tingle—a scholar of his nation's language, culture, and spirituality—tells Rose's story of good and evil with understanding and even laugh-out-loud Choctaw humor.
If I Ever Get Out of Here
by Eric Gansworthoe
IF YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY READ THIS START READING IT NOW. I mean it. Eric Gansworth is a treasure. This book is so beautifully voicey. It has a great sense of time and place. Shoe is one of those characters that stick with you long after you finish reading.
Also Buffalo. Because snow.
Lewis "Shoe" Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he's not used to is white people being nice to him -- people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family's poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan's side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis's home -- will he still be his friend?
Acclaimed adult author Eric Gansworth makes his YA debut with this wry and powerful novel about friendship, memory, and the joy of rock 'n' roll.
A fresh, funny look at growing up Native in the North, by award-winning author Richard Van Camp.
Larry is a Dogrib Indian growing up in the small northern town of Fort Simmer. His tongue, his hallucinations and his fantasies are hotter than the sun. At sixteen, he loves Iron Maiden, the North and Juliet Hope, the high school "tramp." When Johnny Beck, a Metis from Hay River, moves to town, Larry is ready for almost anything.
In this powerful and often very funny first novel, Richard Van Camp gives us one of the most original teenage characters in fiction. Skinny as spaghetti, nervy and self-deprecating, Larry is an appealing mixture of bravado and vulnerability. His past holds many terrors: an abusive father, blackouts from sniffing gasoline, an accident that killed several of his cousins. But through his friendship with Johnny, he’s ready now to face his memories—and his future.
Marking the debut of an exciting new writer, The Lesser Blessed is an eye-opening depiction of what it is to be a young Native man in the age of AIDS, disillusionment with Catholicism and a growing world consciousness.
A coming-of-age story that any fan of The Catcher in the Rye will enjoy.
I don’t know if this is common knowledge but trains and barbed wires were two of the biggest variables that brought down the Native American’s of the Plain traditional way of life. The fact that this book takes place in a “second steam age” was symbolic enough to get me to read it.
A post-Apocalyptic YA novel with a steampunk twist, based on an Apache legend.
Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones -- people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human -- and there was everyone else who served them. Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones' pets -- genetically engineered monsters -- turned on them and are now loose on the world.
Lozen was not one of the lucky ones pre-C, but fate has given her a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. She hunts monsters for the Ones who survived the apocalyptic events of the Cloud, which ensures the safety of her kidnapped family. But with every monster she takes down, Lozen's powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun. As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero.
by Daniel H. Wilson
Listen, I found the good dystopia and I am going to shill about it. In addition Daniel Wilson has Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon and you can feel the weight of his authority in the text.
In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Taking on the persona of a shy human boy, a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online and assumes control over the global network of machines that regulate everything from transportation to utilities, defense and communication.
In the months leading up to this, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans – a single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s menacing “smart” toys, a lonely Japanese bachelor who is victimized by his domestic robot companion, an isolated U.S. soldier who witnesses a ‘pacification unit’ go haywire – but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is too late.
When the Robot War ignites -- at a moment known later as Zero Hour -- humankind will be both decimated and, possibly, for the first time in history, united. Robopocalypse is a brilliantly conceived action-filled epic, a terrifying story with heart-stopping implications for the real technology all around us…and an entertaining and engaging thriller unlike anything else written in years.
Apple In the Middle
by Dawn Quigley
I am angry that I can’t get this on my kindle which means I have to order it to the US and wait until I go back for a visit before I can read it. Curse you, life choices!
Apple Starkington turned her back on her Native American heritage the moment she was called a racial slur. Not that she really even knew HOW to be an Indian in the first place. Too bad the white world doesn't accept her either. So began her quirky habits to gain acceptance. Apple's name, chosen by her Indian mother on her deathbed, has a double meaning: treasured apple of my eye, but also the negative connotation: a person who is red, or Indian, on the outside, but white on the inside. After her wealthy [white] father gives her the boot one summer, Apple reluctantly agrees to visit her Native American relatives on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in northern North Dakota for the first time, which should be easy, but it's not. Apple shatters Indian stereotypes and learns what it means to find her place in a world divided by color.
New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith turns to realistic fiction with the thoughtful story of a Native teen navigating the complicated, confusing waters of high school — and first love.
When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students — especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey — but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices
Edited by Lisa Charleyboy
My copy of this book in in the US which is too bad because it is beautiful. The art alone is worth the price.
A powerful and visually stunning anthology from some of the most groundbreaking Native artists working in North America today. Truly universal in its themes, Dreaming In Indian will shatter commonly held stereotypes and challenge readers to rethink their own place in the world. Divided into four sections, ‘Roots,’ ‘Battles,’ ‘Medicines,’ and ‘Dreamcatchers,’ this book offers readers a unique insight into a community often misunderstood and misrepresented by the mainstream media
In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse
I devoured this book in one sitting and then looked around for someone to talk about it with. It is happiness and pride in yourself in book form. LOVE. The Author has quite the back list and I am eager to start exploring that.
Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you would not guess it by his name: his father is a white man and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota history. Drawing inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition and the Lakota cultural mechanism of the “hero story,” Joseph Marshall provides readers with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.
There are some books about Native Americans by non Natives that are worthwhile but not on the list. My Name is Not Easy comes to mind. I also did not include any by Sherman Alexie because 1. I am mad at him 2. Let’s make some room for new voices.
Of course, you cannot talk about Native representation in literature and Children and YA literature in particular without talking about the powerhouse that is Dr. Debbie Reese. She is an active twitter user and runs the American Indians in Children's Literature. She does incredible work and should get more credit. I have double checked that all of the books on this list are recommended on her website.