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20 Books by Indigenous Authors

by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)



Hi! This is a 2023 update for this blog post with 10 new recommendations for you! The titles with the asterisk next to them are new for 2023. (I'm offering even more recommendations over on Patreon!)

 

This Wednesday, we'll release our Book Club episode focusing on Darcie Little Badger's Elatsoe (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org). This amazing YA novel focuses on Elatsoe, a member of the Lipan Apache tribe, and blends fantastic world building with a compelling mystery, along with some great paranormal touches.


Reading Elatsoe made me reflect on my reading year and some other amazing books I've read. (Be sure to read through the end for some additional books we've highlighted on Unabridged!)


Angeline Boulley's Firekeeper's Daughter (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - I absolutely loved this YA novel about Daunis Fontaine, a teenager who lives in a hockey town. An unenrolled member of the Ojibwe tribe, Daunis wrestles here with identity, her complicated family, and the impact of the opioid epidemic on her community. A powerful read, Firekeeper's Daughter captivated me until the final page. (Check out my review here.)


*Cherie Dimaline's The Marrow Thieves (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) and Hunting by Stars (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - In The Marrow Thieves, Dimaline has woven a book of equal parts gorgeous writing, Indian culture, and an all-too-realistic, post-apocalyptic world. I found myself writing down quotations from nearly every page, gasping in astonishment at each new revelation. The protagonist, Frenchie, opens the book with his brother Mitch, but soon, he's wrested from everything in his past as Mitch is taken by The Recruiters, representatives of the new society who are hungry for the ability to dream that they can find only in the marrow of Indians. The book is horrifying and hopeful and spun through with stories of past and present. I cannot recommend it highly enough and can't wait to talk about it on the podcast.


Last year, I I re-read The Marrow Thieves (via audio, which was excellent) and then picked up the sequel, Hunting by Stars, which picks up immediately after book one leaves off. This sequel didn't strike me quite as hard, but I appreciated the chance to read more deeply into Dimaline's world, into a consideration of the ways that the Canadian government resurrects the specter of residential schools as a way of controlling the indigenous population, who they've come to see as mere resources. It's a thoughtful and thought-provoking book.


*Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - This book does exactly what it sets out to do: it moves through the entirety of U.S. history from an indigenous perspective. That sounds like a simple endeavor, one that should be available on library shelves everywhere, but it's not—I've read so many histories whose aim is to focus on this perspective, but they've always fallen short for me.


Dunbar-Ortiz's account is thorough but quite, quite readable. It's easy to follow and, while it stands alone, it would also be a great foundation for further study since the account of sources used by the author is outlined clearly.


This is an incredibly powerful, important work and is part of a larger series that I hope to work my way through.


Louise Erdrich's The Night Watchman (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - I've long been a fan of Erdrich's work, and you can't go wrong with any of her many books. This one, however, was the first I've read in a while, and it reminded me of Erdrich's beautiful prose and her nuanced touch with characters. While there's a whole community represented here, two characters stand out to me: Thomas Wazhashk, based on Erdrich's grandfather, is a member of the Chippewa Council who is fighting for the rights of his tribe and the Turtle Mountain Reservation; and Patrice "Pixie" Paranteau whose search for her sister leads her away from the reservation to Minneapolis. Winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Night Watchman is the best kind of historical fiction. (Read my review here.)


*Jen Ferguson's The Summer of Bitter and Sweet (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - Our Unabridged Podcast Buddy Read pick for November 2022 is just a gorgeous YA novel. It focuses on Lou, a Métis girl living on the Canadian prairies, who is getting ready to graduate from high school.


Lou has known, for most of her life, that she is the child of a brutal rape—her father has been in prison, so she and her mother have felt physically safe from him. Her mother, however, had never recovered emotionally or mentally, and she's now putting in time to do so, pouring her heart into her new beading business and traveling craft shows in Canada to sell her creations. This leaves Lou at home with her two uncles on their farm, working together to run their dairy and ice cream business. She'll be working with her current best friend, Florence; her ex-boyfriend; and her ex-best friend, King, who has just moved back to town. Their friendship ended because King found out that Lou had been lying to him—and to everyone—about her background, passing as white.


The setup here is complex, and sensitive readers should proceed with caution, but I absolutely loved it. Lou is a complicated, compelling protagonist who trying to figure out her place in a town that often revels in its prejudice. Ferguson vividly writes about the way that Lou's knowledge about her origins has affected her understanding of who she is and of her feelings about her sexuality. It's a stunning book with so many amazing elements for a rich discussion.


Stephen Graham Jones's The Only Good Indians (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - I've been singing the praises of this book, which made my favorites list for the first half of the year. This horror novel focuses on four Blackfeet friends who make a mistake in their teens that haunts them—literally!—through adulthood. (Check out my review here.)


*Oscar Hokeah’s Calling for a Blanket Dance (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - This book is a combination of novel and connected short stories, a consideration of the life of Ever Geimausaddle. Ever’s father immigrated from Mexico; his mother’s ancestors are members of the Cherokee and Kiowa nations, and Ever moves, through the book, between his different heritages.


Beginning in 1976, when Ever is a baby, the narrative shares Ever’s story through a multitude of voices. We hear from his grandparents, his mother, his sister, his aunts, distant relatives . . . but not, for the longest time, from Ever himself. The voices are distinct and opinionated, and they drive home the way the truth of someone can shift both because of the point of view of the storyteller and because we, as people, grow and change.


There are some recurring themes through the book, traditions that serve as anchors and which older generations are often striving to pass on to keep them alive. There’s a reverence for ceremony but for a ceremony that is alive and that changes with those who are enacting it.


Hokeah’s writing is stunning, and this is a book that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting. Calling for a Blanket Dance has become one of my top reads this year.


*Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - "Since everyone had told me I couldn't do both [botany and poetry], I'd chosen plants. [They] told me that science was not about beauty, not about the embrace between plants and humans" (Kimmerer 41).


I could have chosen any one of a thousand quotations here to represent the beauty and wisdom that saturates Robin Wall Kimmerer's book (I seriously used SO many book darts!). Kimmerer's writing blends poetry and deep, scientific understanding; shares both Indigenous ways of knowing and the modern understandings that dovetail with tradition.


Kimmerer writes in essays which work well as standalones but also build on each other, so I took my time with this one but definitely built momentum as I processed her ideas. It's a lovely, challenging, illuminating read.


*Amber McBride's Me(Moth) (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - Amber McBride's Me (Moth) was our Unabridged Podcast Buddy Read pick for June 2022—what a joy this one was to re-read. I read it in audio the first time and in print the second, and both formats work beautifully, though I loved the chance to savor the verse in print.


The first time around, I went into Amber McBride's Me (Moth) knowing very little, and I recommend that you do the same, so I'm going to keep this review very low on summary. It's a novel in verse about a girl named Moth whose family (her parents and sibling) died in a car accident. Moth is grieving, surviving, recovering . . . sort of. She meets a boy named Sani, and they set out on a road trip, both determined to find themselves and their roots.


I don't want to say much more. I listened to this one the first time on audio, which was fantastic (McBride reads it), and reading it in print worked just as well. Moth is a beautifully complex character dealing with an incredibly complicated situation. I absolutely loved this book.


N. Scott Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain (Bookshop.org) - All right, I'll admit: I'm cheating a little bit here. It's been years since I read the whole of Momaday's memoir (first published in 1969), but I revisited it this year when I taught an anthologized chapter of it in my class. It reminded me of the beauty of Momaday's writing and the power of the journey he takes to retrace the steps of his Kiowa ancestors after his grandmother's death. I'll definitely be re-reading the entire book soon.


*Rebecca Roanhorse's Trail of Lightning (Bookshop.org) and Storm of Locusts (Bookshop.org) - Rebecca Roanhorse's The Sixth World series is a brilliant, monster-hunting tale centered on a tough, grumpy female protagonist. Maggie Hoskie, also known as the Monsterkiller, came out of a horrible trauma with clan powers—she's really good at killing—and a problematic mentor/god, Neizgháni, who has since abandoned her for reasons unknown to her. She had given up monster hunting after he left but is pulled back in by promises that she'll be paid well.


The story, based in Navajo stories, takes place in a postapocalyptic realm, after the Big Water flooded most of the United States and left the land (Dinétah) occupied by the Diné or Navajo people walled off from the restof what remains.


Maggie is alone, mostly, but as her quest continues, Roanhorse introduces other vibrant characters, some of whom are allies and others are . . . complicated.


The twists and turns of the plot here are great, but for me, it's the characters who shine.


Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - Like The Way to Rainy Mountain, Ceremony had been a book I had loved but not read for decades (since college, when I read them both!). I decided to pick it up early this year and was blown away again by the story of Tayo, a veteran of World War II, who finds his life and world changed when he returns to his Laguna Pueblo reservation. The novel blends prose and poetry, incorporating Pueblo myth that parallels Tayo's experience. (Here's my review.)


Jesse Thistle's From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way (Bookshop.org) - This powerful memoir was fabulous on audio (it was read by the author) and has really stayed with me through 2021. Thistle's childhood was full of turmoil, and as he grew up, that turmoil only grew. Thistle works through addiction, homelessness, and total rejection by his family to find a new strength and the ability to reach out again to those he loved. (You can find my review here.)


*Diane Wilson's The Seed Keeper (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - Another five-star book from the #readwithtoni buddy read! Diane Wilson's The Seed Keeper is a gorgeous novel about one woman's attempt to recapture her lost family and heritage.


Rosalie Iron Wing was removed from her Dakhóta family after the death of her single father and raised by strangers. Now an adult, she is seeking to reconnect with her family's story. After decades away, she returns to the cabin where she lived with her dad and begins to search again for the family she has lost.


The Seed Keeper moves back and forth in history, traveling back several generations, sharing the voices and experiences of past generations and of other figures in Rosalie's life. But it's Rosalie's life that's the focus. Despite her separation from her family, the memories of all that her father taught her have stayed with her, and she's tried to hold on.


There's a focus here—as the title reveals—on seeds as both a literal connection with her ancestors and a metaphor for the hope that Rosalie can reforge the culture that she's been seeking for so long. This is also a beautiful fiction companion to Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass, which Wilson mentions in her acknowledgments.


I didn't read all of these next books this year, but I wanted to be sure to highlight some other books that have been a focus on the podcast/blog:


Eric Gansworth's Apple: Skin to the Core (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - Episode 172

Tommy Orange's There There (Libro.fm | Bookshop.org) - Episode 146

Katherena Vermette's The Break (Bookshop.org) - Review


(A note to our readers: click on the hashtags above to see our other blog posts with the same hashtag.)


Interested in what else we're reading? Check out our Featured Books page.


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