What YA’ Reading: Indigenous stories

Indigenous populations have been in the forefront of news stories recently due to the mass graves found in Canada linked to former residential schools. Other countries, including the U.S., are taking a harder look at their own history of residential and boarding schools for Indigenous children and the atrocities committed there.

Now more than ever, reading stories written by and about Indigenous people is an important part of understanding the history and current reality effecting Indigenous populations. Here are a few powerful books I recommend written by and about American Indians.

Firekeeper’s Daugther by Angeline Boulley

Duanis dreams of studying medicine and she is ready to start fulfilling her dream by attending the University of Michigan. Then tragedy strikes and she needs to care for her mother instead. In addition to missing school this means Duanis will stay in the place she’s never felt like she belongs due to her part Ojibwe roots.

An unanticipated bright spot of staying home is Jamie, a charming new member of her brother’s hockey team. As Jamie and Duanis get closer, she starts to suspect he’s hiding something. Suddenly Duanis is thrust directly into the center of a criminal investigation. While reluctantly agreeing to go uncover for the FBI, Duanis uses her knowledge of science and Ojibwe medicine to conduct her own investigation. What she finds challenges every part of who she is and where she’s from.

Firekeeper’s Daughter explores racism, discrimination, drug use and erasure of culture and history. Duanis is a smart, sensitive and powerful heroine with a complex history. She feels like an outsider to the communities closest to her. This book is one of the best YA books of 2021.

A Snake Falls To Earth by Darcie Little Badger

A Snake Falls to Earth is a story about two people who have no idea the other exists during a time of catastrophe on Earth. Nina is a Lipan girl from earth. Oli is a cottonmouth kid from the land of spirits and monsters. Their worlds are now being driven together in ways they haven’t been for centuries.

Darcie Little Badger, author of Elatsoeuses traditional Lipan Apache storytelling to weave a story of monsters, magic and family. This a beautiful example of Indigenous futurism. I predict we’ll see a lot more Indigenous futurism in the next few years.

This book is being considered for the 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Apple by Eric Gansworth

Apple is an insult used for Native Americans who are “red on the outside, white on the inside.” Apple is a memoir in verse of Gansworth’s experiences growing up on a reservation in the 60s and 70s. The book looks back on the culture erasure of the boarding schools two generations ago. Gansworth also writes about the poverty and white supremacy he endured growing up on the reservation.

A memoir in verse is not the type of book I typically gravitate toward but Apple felt important and it was. It’s eye opening, heartbreaking and pushes the boundaries of what we expect from YA literature.

This book was longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

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Rachael is always listening to an audiobook or a podcast, usually while doing a mountain of housework that comes with having young kids. Her favorite genres include historical fiction, young adult fantasy and historical romances. In her off time she enjoys hand lettering, using power tools and watching heavy metal rock concerts with her husband. She purchases the young adult and juvenile fiction for the library.