Over the past few years, I have tried to make my reading as diverse as possible. For me, that means reading books with diverse characters and stories AND reading books by diverse authors. You might recall last year, when I tried to read as many books by POC authors as by white authors. It didn’t quite work out quite as well as I’d hoped, so this year I’m trying to do better. And I have found some really great books that exposed me to things I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced.
This year, I have been looking for more books by Indigenous authors, specifically. Because despite my attempts to read more diversely, I have only read two in the past few years. And I would really like to change that. Since that involves actually reading those books – and not just adding them to my collection of unread books – I thought it would be fun to turn it into a post. So, I chose five books by Indigenous authors that I’m excited to read… and read them. And what better day to share than Indigenous Peoples’ Day? Which, by the way is today. That one white guy is not worth celebrating, so let’s all move on.
It actually worked out very well that a lot of Indigenous literature is a little spooky. Because we all know in October, I like to read all of the spooky things. So while there are a lot more books out there I would like to read eventually, I kind of gravitated towards the spookier ones this month. And yes, I read four of these in the last ten days because I have a procrastination problem and waited until October to really jump into this experiment.
But I did read all of them, so let’s talk about the books!
There There by Tommy Orange
I picked up a copy of this book a few years ago when it first came out. And I feel like I still see it around, especially when people are talking about books by Indigenous authors. Now that I’ve read it, I can see why. This book delves into a variety of different experiences of indigenous peoples from within the same community. I did like the idea of this book and how it put a spotlight on a culture most of us should be learning more about.
I don’t really have too much to say about this one other than that it was fine. I don’t think the story was my cup of tea, but I liked it. I just had a little trouble connecting with it. It’s one of those rare books that I can read and not necessarily love, but understand why it’s popular and be glad so many other people are reading and appreciating it. If that makes sense.
Elastoe by Darcy Little Badger
This is one of the books I was most looking forward to. I actually have it on my five-star predictions list for this year. Spoiler: it wasn’t a five-star read, but I did really, really enjoy it. This is a young adult book set in an America where monsters and ghosts and all of those legendary spooky things are real. And it was super cute. Apart from the fact that the main character is in high school, this read very middle grade. It actually kind of reminded me of City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab, which is actually a middle grade book. The writing is very similar, and I liked this one about the same amount. So definitely for a younger YA audience, but still really enjoyable.
The one thing I loved most about this book is that it delved a little bit into Native American mythology and storytelling, which isn’t something I have a lot of experience with. But it is something I do want to learn more about. So that was definitely interesting, and it’s something I’m glad exists for younger readers, because this isn’t something I was exposed to very much growing up.
I think the thing that kept me from giving this five stars was that I went in expecting a middle grade book (I’ve just heard a lot of people call it that) and that’s not what this is. The very middle-grade writing style (which wasn’t bad by any means) and the fact that the characters are young adults just felt a little bit off in my brain. Like it was so close to being great, but took a left turn super close to the finish line. I kind of wish this had been solidly middle grade, because then I think it would be incredible. Still a great book, just not quite what I thought it would be.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
You guys, I messed up. When I was putting together this list, I was kind of just choosing books I’ve heard of and know are fairly popular and ones that seemed interesting-ish to me. I also definitely gravitated towards the spooky side since it is October. What I should have done was a little more research. I was aware that the premise of this book involved the consequences of killing an elk. Not something I was particularly excited to read, but I figured I could get past it to the rest of the book since this has been getting such rave reviews.
But that did not happen. (Minor spoilers and trigger warning for animal suffering in the rest of this paragraph.) One thing I can’t do in books or movies or tv shows is animals being in pain or suffering (I recently stopped watching Midnight Mass because of exactly that). And I might not have picked this up had I known not only that the deer killing is kind of graphic and brutal, but there is also a scene with dogs that have been horrifically murdered. I can do horror, I just can’t do that.
After that point, I mostly just sped through the rest of the book. I hadn’t really connected with the writing or the characters, so there was nothing really keeping me tied to this story. It just was not the book for me, at all. I kind of regret choosing it for this post. I feel like me not enjoying it was not the fault of the book. I probably would have read it anyway at some point because people keep talking about it, but the point of this post was to celebrate works by Indigenous authors, so I feel a little bad about it.
I did end up rating this three stars, because I did appreciate how this book talked about the treatment of Native Americans and Indigenous peoples. And there wasn’t anything I could think of that I thought was bad or not done well. It’s not a bad book, it just didn’t work for me.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
I’m going to be completely honest here and say I have no idea why I added this one to my list. It is young adult and dystopian, neither of which are things I tend to pick up at this point in my life. It’s something I devoured in my early twenties, and it just feels like I’ve moved on from that phase. So it makes absolutely no sense why I chose to read this (I don’t even really remember doing it), but I am glad I did. Because this book was actually pretty good!
It’s about a future in which people have lost the ability to dream, and it’s making them insane. But it hasn’t affected indigenous people, and they are basically hunted for their bone marrow, which holds the key to dreams. But what really sets this book apart from all of the other YA dystopia out there is the insight it gives into the Indigenous experience. Indigenous people have been mistreated and oppressed, and I thought this book did a great job of illustrating that through the lens of a science fiction story. If you know a young adult reader who loves dystopian, get them this book.
Because this just wasn’t really the type of thing I enjoy nowadays, I didn’t really love this book, unfortunately. But I did really like the story and the topics it dealt with. I thought it was super creative, and just something a little more interesting (and diverse) in a sea of cookie-cutter YA dystopian books.
Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq
I don’t even know where to begin with this book. It was strange and powerful and beautiful and I absolutely loved it. I’m pretty sure I knew the least about this book going into this post, but I just had a good feeling about it, and I’m so happy that it turned out to be right. This book was just right up my alley. I was running a bit behind on my reading for this post, and ended up only having like half a day to finish this book. But it ended up being totally fine because I couldn’t put it down anyway and finished it in a single sitting.
It’s hard to describe this book – it’s a mix of memoir and poetry, but it’s fictional and heavy on the magical realism. And it is weird. But it a good way. You know I love the weird books over here, and this one was almost Bunny-level, mess-up-your-brain-a-little-bit weird. And it was so GOOD. I can already tell this one will stick with me for a while.
I also have to talk about the poetry, because I’m not a huge poetry person. It is extremely rare that I pick up a book of poetry to read – I just feel like I never quite get it, at least not to the extent I would like to. But the poetry in this book is absolutely gorgeous. I’m so glad I bought a physical copy of this book so I can go back and read some of it. Just beautiful. And I thought it worked really well interspersed throughout the chapters of prose.
In case you didn’t guess from me raving about this book for the last three paragraphs, I loved it. This is definitely not going to be the book for everyone, but if you like weird things like me, you’ll probably like this one. I’m so glad I finished this post off on a strong note. And I’m a little bit sad this is Tanya Tagaq’s only book because I just want to read more.
I think it goes without saying that there are a million more books out there by Indigenous authors, many of which I still want to read. What is featured in this post is a very small selection. So I definitely encourage you to look up books by Indigenous authors, and find a few that you’re interested in to check out. It is absolutely worthwhile – these are voices that should be given more attention. Even when I didn’t personally enjoy a story, I learned something from it. The indigenous experience is different than my own, and I did really appreciate exploring it more through these books.
That said, I had a lot of fun with this (mostly). I enjoyed learning and reading something that was more outside my comfort zone than I expected. It opened my eyes to different experiences and beliefs, and I’m really glad I did this.
Have you read any books by Indigenous authors? Are there any you think I should pick up next?
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