Books by Native Authors to Read Based on Other Favorite Books
[Edited from image on NativeAmericanHeritageMonth.gov]
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November is coming to a close, which means National Native American Heritage month is as well. Even though the month is ending, there’s no better time to pay tribute to the traditions and ancestry of American Indians, and one way to do this is by reading works by Native authors.
To help pick a good book to start with, we’ve included read-alikes of other titles you may know. Whether you check the title out from your local library or purchase the book for your physical or digital shelves, supporting Native authors helps elevate their individual stories and voices.
The Removed for Dare to Know fans
James Kennedy’s Dare to Know recently released this September, and if you’re had the chance to read it and thought, “Wow. I want another weird, ambiguous, and subtly off-putting book to read,” then you should try Brandon Hobson’s latest The Removed. Also released this year, Hobson’s tale follows the Echota family fifteen years after the fatal shooting of young Ray-Ray and their individual experiences, leading up to the family’s annual bonfire which marks the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death.
This could easily be classified as domestic fiction because of the familiar focus, but it regularly dips its toes into magical realism and speculative fiction, especially in Edgar’s chapters. Although Dare to Know is more singularly focused on the narrator, both stories have potentially unlikable characters and perplexing endings, jump between past and present, weave in tales of myths and history (Hobson’s Cherokee myths and Kennedy’s history of Cahokia), are catalyzed by a traumatic event, and get pretty wacky at times, especially when it comes to unsettling video games.
Check out Hobson’s other books here.
Buy The Removed:
Winter Counts for The Last Policeman fans
Ok, so Ben H. Winters’ The Last Policeman trilogy is more speculative and sci-fi than David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s contemporary standalone Winter Counts, but both noir/maybe-not-really-noir crime thrillers have similar vibes that make them compatible. To summarize Winter Counts, it’s a story of local vigilante enforcer Virgil and his investigation into the recent spike in heroin found on the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
Although neither of the books follow all the noir tropes, both have protagonists with good intentions, who step up when others won’t and do whatever needs to be done, even if what needs to be done lands in a morally gray area. Both Hank and Virgil are sort of thrown into these situations, and generally just want to do right by the people they love or the people who are left behind by the system. In general, if you like the overall bleakness, alienated protagonist, and exploration of side characters dealing with the various cards they’ve been dealt from The Last Policeman, Winter Counts is a solid follow-up read.
Check out Heska Wanbli Weiden’s site here.
Buy Winter Counts:
Elatsoe for Black Water Sister fans
YA readers this one’s for you, especially if you enjoyed the blending of recognizably contemporary elements with more paranormal ones like those from Zen Cho’s Black Water Sister. A speculative fiction of sorts, Darcie Little Badger’s Elatsoe is set in a slightly altered America where the legends of its people are more than just myth, from vampires and fae-folk to ghost-conjurers like Lipan Apache main character Elatsoe.
Though Elatsoe (“Ellie” for short) isn’t a medium in the same way Jess is from Black Water Sister, these two main characters share a similar stubborn determination and overall narrative. Cho and Little Badger individually mix a fun blend of paranormal elements with ancestral flashbacks, subtle magic in recognizable worlds, and twisty takes on murder mysteries. Without spoilers, their endings are satisfying in a similar way, and to top it off, Ellie and Jess are both queer (asexual and lesbian, respectively) without their narrative focus being that of romantic or sexual relationships.
Check out Little Badger’s site here.
The Only Good Indians for Whisper Down the Lane fans
Horror readers may already know of Stephen Graham Jones, but if you’re new to the genre and find yourself enjoying the more psychological and thriller elements of stories like that of Clay McLeod Chapman’s recent Whisper Down the Lane, then The Only Good Indians is a good place to start. The book introduces us to four Blackfeet men and the monster hunting them down years later regarding a disturbing event from their youth.
Like Whisper Down the Lane, this horror novel is great for psychological thriller readers looking for a bit of a fright. Both focus on the repercussions of running from past mistakes, feature questionable characters and vague antagonists, and leave the reader considering the justifications of the vengeful antagonist.
Check out Graham Jones’ other books here.
Buy The Only Good Indians:
Rez Dogs for Rain Reign fans
Joseph Bruchac has published numerous children’s stories, and with two books out in 2021, it doesn’t seem like he’ll quit anytime soon. Everyone loves a good middle grade story about a dog, but the things that set Ann M. Martin’s Rain Reign apart from previous dog books do the same for Bruchac’s new Rez Dogs, which focuses on Malian, her self-quarantine on the Wabanaki reservation with her grandparents during COVID-19, and the friendship she forms with rez dog Malsum.
How do you liven up a contemporary tale of friendship between girl and girl’s best friend? Toss in a narrative-shaping crisis, whether that be a local storm and flood or a global pandemic. Also, challenge younger readers or liven up the experience for older readers with a unique style or voice (ie. Martin writing through Rose’s point of view, a young girl with Asperger’s, and Bruchac structuring the narrative in verse similar to that of oral-storytelling tradition).
Check out Bruchac’s site here.
Buy Rez Dogs:
These are only a small handful of books by American Indian authors. Check out Rebecca Roanhorse’s Between Earth and Sky books for a sci-fi adventure weaving the people, culture, and history of Pre-Columbian societies or The Sixth World duology for a post-apocalyptic world set against the backdrop of the Navajo nation. Dennis E. Staples recently released his debut title, This Town Sleeps, which takes place on an Ojibwe reservation and teeters between subtle mystery and emotional domestic fiction. Pick up a TikTok fav and Pulitzer prize nominee from new voice Tommy Orange: There There, which follows twelve voices leading up to the Big Oakland Powwow and the tragedy that takes place there. There’s various memoirs to pick up, but give Jim Kristofic’s Navajos Wear Nikes a try for a respectful and sincere look into growing up as an Anglo minority on the Reservation.
Looking for other book recs surrounding national months? Give these roundups a try:
A Book You May Enjoy
Gabrielle likes a lot of things and dislikes very little. Retired ice cream cake decorator, occasional farmhand, and reminiscing library worker, she spent her childhood dreaming of fighting fires and her college days writing about Bong Joon-ho before he was cool. Now, she preaches the importance of dental hygiene; chats up books, movies, and comics via the Quirk blog; and legally climbs silos. Whether the legality of the silo climbing makes her more or less interesting is up for debate. Email [email protected] if you want to review our titles or feature our authors.