Reading Indigenous Authors

Today happens to be the last day of Native American History Month here in the US, so it seems like a good time to mention some of the Indigenous authors I’ve been reading this year. I’m always trying to diversify my reading in various ways, and recently I’ve been enjoying some Native viewpoints across various genres.

Calling for a Blanket Dance

by Oscar Hokeah

I discovered Oscar Hokeah’s writing through his blog here on WordPress. When I saw that his debut novel was coming out, I immediately requested it at the library. Calling for a Blanket Dance is a contemporary generational family drama, with a similar feeling to Pachinko or Roots. It tells the life and struggles of Ever Geimausaddle through the myriad voices of his family members, finally ending with himself. It was such an engaging read, and I loved the writing and the voices of each of the narrators. I also loved the format of interconnected vignettes that fit together to tell and overarching story. Hokeah draws a lot from his own life and family, so it feels very authentic.

Braiding Sweetgrass

by Robin Wall Kimmerer

As a biologist, this nonfiction exploration of Native ecological wisdom really appealed to me, but it is so well written that it is very accessible to nonscientists as well. We often have a stereotype of Native peoples being “noble savages,” living in perfect harmony with nature, and this book explores some of the Native myths and practices behind this, both from Kimmerer’s Potawatomi heritage as well as the peoples of upstate New York where she lives. It also backs up observations with clear, accurate scientific details, much of which I remembered from college botany, but I’ve been learning some new things, too.

Though there is some interconnectedness, each chapter mostly reads like its own distinct essay, which makes it easy to pick up and put down; it’s not really the kind of book to read straight through as fast as possible. I’ve been listening to it on audiobook (narrated by the author) while I drive, and each essay is conveniently about the length of my commute.

A Snake Falls to Earth

by Darcie Little Badger

I just started reading this one for the recent Big Library Read on the Libby app (which allows for unlimited copies for lending). The sophomore effort from the Elatsoe author (also a scientist!) has been nominated for numerous awards, including this year’s Newbery Medal. It is a bit of a slow tale, but it has really great elements of magic mixed with a coming-of-age story. It pulls from folklore of DLB’s Lipan Apache heritage. If you like YA fantasy like I do, I think you will enjoy this one.

Finding My Dance

by Ria Thundercloud

Ok, I’m going to throw a picture book in here, too. I read this to my kids, and while it was just a touch above their age (better for early elementary), as a former dancer myself I loved it. It tells the author’s journey into the dance world, starting with powwows with her family. The pictures were lovely, too. Here is the author performing the Eagle Dance mentioned in the book.

What’s next on my list? On my to-read list:

  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, a contemporary adult novel about a haunted bookstore set in 2020
  • Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, a contemporary YA mystery/thriller nominated for a lot of awards
  • anything by Joy Harjo, the former US Poet Laureate

If you are looking for further recommendations, here are some great infographics from the bookstory Room of One’s Own

Review: A Darkness at the Door

One of my last posts I wrote last spring was the cover reveal for A Darkness at the Door, and I am happy to present to you now the final product, in living color. Here’s the special Kickstarter edition that I just received in the mail!

Gilt foil! Blue pages!

A Darkness at the Door is the much-anticipated sequel and conclusion to 2021’s The Theft of Sunlight, both part of the Dauntless Path series by Intisar Khanani. It’s a YA fantasy series (with a touch of fairy tales) featuring the author’s signature “mighty girls and diverse worlds,” and it quickly made its way onto my bookshelf alongside my favorite YA fantasy books of all time.

Theft saw our main character Rae working with everyone from princess to street thief with the goal of uncovering a ring of slavers that had snatched a young friend. And now FINALLY its terrrrrrrible cliffhanger has been resolved in Darkness, which sees Rae traveling even further afield and becoming more bound up in the magical struggle going on among the leaders of Menaiya and the Fae.

In short, this book was sooooo satisfying. Rae is such a fantastic character, and the story has so many wonderful elements, including disability rep, slow burn romance, justice, magic, and thief lords on rooftops. I was so pleased with the clever way Rae was able to decisively take down the powerful group behind the slavers while staying true to her own ideals. And I really liked the way the ending alluded to the Pied Piper of Hamelin, echoing Thorn and its retelling of “The Goose Girl.”

Also, do yourself a favor and go watch the delightful Ms. Marvel on Disney+ so you can see Bren in real life:

Red Dagger from Ms. Marvel… AKA Bren in my headcanon

So, in short, I really cannot say enough good things about this book, and the Dauntless Path series in general. Khanani is definitely one of my auto-buy authors. I also recommend her Sunbolt series, and she has just been published in an anthology of grief-centered SFF called The Alchemy of Sorrow.

If you would like to learn a little more about the author and her writing, here is a charmingly rambling interview including such things as:

  • A story about rescuing a baby crow
  • Her career trajectory from indie author to a 2-book deal with HarperTeen
  • Working with sensitivity readers to write a disabled MC
  • Her difficulties in writing Darkness, including struggling with writing the romance sub-plot, writing during the pandemic, and getting stressed-induced shingles
  • Magical vasectomies
  • Dramatic ukelele strumming!

Some future works that we can look forward to from her include more Sunbolt installments (YAY), a story for Rae’s sister Niya to possibly wrap up the Fae Lady’s arc, maybe a Kirrana story, and a genderswapped post-apocalyptic Sleeping Beauty story.

Also check out her panel below discussing my favorite topic: writing fairy tale retellings! As well as a fun Instagram chat with fellow author Stephanie Burgis.

https://events.hubilo.com/booktalkevent/session/154781

Page to Screen: Paper Girls

Being a huge fan of Brian K Vaughn’s comic series Saga, I was thrilled to see his scifi series Paper Girls get an adaptation on Amazon Prime. The first season came out earlier this year and was well received, but unfortunately it will not be getting a second season. Still, both the TV show and the original comic are definitely worth checking out.

Paper Girls follows four 12-yr-old girls as they meet while delivering papers very early on the morning after Halloween in 1988. What starts as a difficult morning on the job with acquaintances morphs into a time-traveling journey of friendship and self-discovery as the girls find themselves thrown into the middle of a time war.

Despite a bit of a slow start, the TV adaptation is quite engaging. The characters are its strength. By the end I was really drawn into the struggles of each of the four girls and even their intimidating antagonist the Prioress. Erin, Tiffany, KJ and Mac all have to reconcile themselves to the fact that their own futures aren’t exactly what they expected. The four young actors are perfectly cast and did such a wonderful job; it really felt like the characters had leapt off the page into real life.

Naturally, there were some changes in adapting the comic to a TV show. Mostly, they had to tone down the crazy a bit. The comic has some really memorable events that would be really hard to translate to screen without a *huge* effect budget, like the giant tardigrade battle in the Cuyahoga River.

Wish we could have seen this on screen, but I totally understand why not!

Although there are some changes to the plot as well as new characters added in the TV series, they did a really great job keeping the spirit of the work. We still got scifi elements like time travel, Gundam-style mechs, and pterodactyls, as well as coming-of-age and friendship themes. There are some truly emotional moments. They also did a great job keeping the tension of the girls being stuck between the two sides of the time war and not always knowing who to trust.

The TV show added a clearer antagonist and didn’t go as far into depth on the philosophical differences of those trying to control the timeline and the resistance who wants freedom to change things. I wish we would get to see what a second season could have been, especially after the teaser at the end, but they really wrapped up the characters’ arcs well so the season does stand on its own.

They also dropped the idea that all the future tech is Apple branded, with the Apple logo (and apples in general) being a recurring motif. Shame to lose that depth of meaning, but the show streams on Amazon! 🤣

Posted by u/aguiadesangue on Reddit (https://i.redd.it/unix3qm70p361.png)

Saga fans will definitely find a lot to love in the comic. In particular, I was tickled to find an “alien” language, just like Blue in Saga (which is actually just Esperanto). In Paper Girls, the time travel rebels of the future speak in a pictographic-looking language. Just like with Blue, the meaning is pretty clear from context, but you can actually translate it if you want. Each symbol of STF speech corresponds to a letter of the English alphabet, so it’s a simple substitution cipher. I worked it out for myself, but of course you can also find translations online.

This is how you get away with major-level swearing in your comic 😂 Just kidding, there’s plenty of swearing in English, too.

This is a great time out year to check out Paper Girls because it has a lot of Halloween vibes, being that it starts on the morning after Halloween, which the girls term “Hell Day.” Between that, the young kids, and the 80s setting, it does initially feel a bit like Stranger Things, but that comparison is really only skin deep. (For reference, the Paper Girls comic began publishing in Oct 2015; Stranger Things came out in July 2016.)

One last note: being from Northeast Ohio, I loved the setting! Vaughn is from Rocky River, a suburb of Cleveland, which you can see has clearly been fictionalized as Stony Stream. It was really cool seeing so many familiar locations in the comic (and the TV show did Ohio pretty well too haha).

Overall, I’d give the TV show a 6-7 rating out of 10, and the comic an 8. Once I’d watched the TV show with my husband I was thrilled to find that my library had unlimited copies of the complete collected comic via the Libby app. I’d recommend either/both versions of the story, and then I’d recommend Saga. 😉

Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.

This week we celebrate Banned Books Week, sponsored by the American Library Association and others to celebrate our freedom to read and bring awareness to challenges of materials in schools, libraries, and bookstores. This past year has seen a huge number of challenges in local school districts; the ALA recorded 729 challenges last year, compared to 156 challenges in 2020 and 377 in 2019 (pre-pandemic).

You may notice some trends in the top ten challenged materials this year: sex and LGBTQ+ content. Nine out of ten books fall into one of these categories. There has been a huge push by conservatives, fueled by social media use, to paint these books as pornographic or grooming or indoctrinating children. You can see this in the language they use in their complaints below: “woke” “indoctrinating” “critical race theory” “Marxist” In school board and library board meetings across the country, people have stood up to read explicit passages (out of context) from books found in school libraries to try to shock the community into having them removed from libraries and class syllabi.

Of course, not every book is appropriate for every child at every point in their development. But I reject the premise that any inclusion of sex, racism, gender dysphoria, etc. is automatically harmful. The context is important as well, and the whole point reading literature in school is to teach children to think critically. For my children, I would rather have them reading and struggling with tough concepts in an age-appropriate way, with the guidance of their teachers and myself, rather than shelter them. Books help expand one’s worldview; it’s not always a pretty picture but sometimes we find something that really resonates with us and helps us grow. Here’s a thoughtful Twitter thread from author Shannon Hale that speaks to this:

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe has been the subject of much controversy since its release in 2019. It was recently the subject of a lawsuit in Virginia in which two Republicans requested a restraining order against Barnes & Noble to prevent them from selling Gender Queer and A Court of Mist and Fury to minors, claiming they are obscene. A judge recently dismissed the case, ruling that the plaintiffs had failed to establish that either book was obscene and further that “Virginia Code § 18.2-384 is unconstitutional on its face.” However, Virginia Beach City schools did remove all copies of Gender Queer from their libraries. Gender Queer is a 2020 winner of the ALA’s Alex Award and has a 4.35 star rating on Goodreads.

The #2 title, Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison, was the subject of some local controversy here in Northeast Ohio. After some parents in Hudson, Ohio complained about a prompt in a book used for a college-level course (which involved the mayor threatening the school board with charges of child pornography), one parent went further to complain about Lawn Boy being available in the library, citing inappropriate sexual content. It was eventually returned to shelves after a review. Lawn Boy is a 2019 winner of the ALA’s Alex Award and has a 3.83 rating on Goodreads.

Jumping down a few to #5 is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is the only book on this list that I have read. And I do not hesitate to say that it is a book all teenagers in America should be reading. It has been nominated for/won more awards than I have room to list and has a 4.5 star rating on Goodreads. It is gripping, compelling, and entertaining while being an educational experience; it deals with justice and morality without being preachy; it is both timely and a classic. Starr is a wonderful protagonist that I would love for all teens to meet.

Fight book banning on a local level

If you’ve made it this far in this post, you have seen how censorship is taking place on a local level, in school districts and city libraries. While I have voted in local elections all my adulthood, this past year has really hammered home to me how critical these elections are. Pay attention to the positions of the candidates for school board in particular. Since my children are not in public schools, I never concerned myself about these elections too much. But now I understand that I want to live in and foster a community that sees diverse literature for young adults as a tool for growth and self-discovery. Vote for library levies and utilize library resources; librarians are the ones on the front lines of the fight for freedom in reading. Practice thoughtful reading in your own home. When I find problematic things in children’s books (typically sexism in older books) for my four-year-old I try to mention them and give my thoughts. As he gets older, I’ll ask more for his thoughts as well.

What are your favorite banned books? How do you celebrate your freedom to read? What are you reading right now?

Previous Banned Books Week posts

“A Darkness at the Door” Audiobook Kickstarter

I’ve raved before about Intisar Khanani’s YA fantasy series, including indie Sunbolt series and the Dauntless Path series that starts with fairy tale retelling Thorn. The second book in that series, The Theft of Sunlight, was one of my favorite books last year.

Unfortunately, her US publisher did not pick up the next book in the series (which, after Theft‘s cliffhanger ending, is just cruel 😭). Thankfully A Darkness at the Door will still be published, but the author is asking for some support, in the form of a Kickstarter to allow her to hire the same audiobook reader that did the previous Dauntless Path books. There are several pledge levels, with rewards from a swag bag of bookish goodies to a copy of the audiobook (obviously) to a limited special edition hardcover copy of Darkness. (I definitely went for the limited special edition!) You can also purchase signed copies of her other books as add-ons.

Good news: the Kickstarter was fully funded in two days! And has already hit its first stretch goal as well. But I still encourage you to back it! Not only are there further stretch goals, but I really can’t say enough about how awesome this author and series are, and I am really rooting for her and it to succeed.

Back the Kickstarter for the Audiobook for A Darkness at the Door here.