As November begins, so does Native American Heritage Month, the perfect time to think more about diversifying your bookshelf by adding some great books by Native authors.
“The Tao of Raven: An Alaskan Native Memoir” by Ernestine Hayes examines intergenerational trauma and hardships. Hayes explores the idea that all things are connected, and change is possible. Using the Tlingit story of “Raven and the Box of Daylight” to deepen the narration and reflection, Hayes expresses an ongoing frustration with the obstacles and prejudices Alaskan Native communities face on their own land. Recounting her own story of attending and completing college in her 50s, and later becoming a professor and writer, Hayes weaves together strands of contemplation and fictional stories to articulate her struggles. The book is well written, interweaving multiple perspectives and types of reflection, making the reader confront their own privilege.
Anthony Award Winner for Best First Novel, “Winter Counts” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden is a groundbreaking thriller following a vigilante on a Native American Reservation in South Dakota who embarks on a dangerous mission to track down the source of a heroin influx. While the mystery behind the heroin influx is engaging and entertaining, I found that the real beauty of the book is the deep look into the main character Virgil and his demons. He isn’t fully accepted into his community, but also isn’t given the privilege associated with the half of him that is white. This struggle of finding belonging in a world stacked against him plays a significant role in the story, along with the prejudices within the reservation, classism and privilege. The way this story wrapped up was amazing, with the slightest hints of bittersweet sadness. If you are a lover of slow burn character driven crime fiction, this may be the book for you.
For poetry fans, “An American Sunrise” by 23rd United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo, is a great book to pick up and try. Harjo writes of pain, trauma, and joy, both hers and that of her ancestors. The book is a quick and very accessible read, and all of the poems are beautifully written.
Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Black Sun” is a fun fantasy book with an interesting storyline inspired by the Pre-Columbian Americas. Written from the multiple perspectives of main characters Serapio, Xiala, Naranpa, and Okoa, this book is the full fantasy reading package. The characters are complex and nuanced as the story often examines both the good and bad of humanity. If you’re looking for a book that spends a long time on world building, “Black Sun” might not be the right book for you. However, this is a great book for lovers of character-based fantasy, or someone looking to get into fantasy.
“Firekeeper’s Daughter” by Angeline Boulley graces the top of many book lists for a reason. Following Daunis Fontaine as she balances complicated family issues and dynamics with an undercover mission, you will find yourself unable to put this book down. While the characters can sometimes feel slightly one-dimensional the writing is so beautiful that just having one dimension is worth it. There is one major downside to this book, the misogyny. Daunis often comments on other women and their behavior around men, in a way that suggests internalized misogyny. Throughout the book it remains unclear if this is an intentional choice or the author’s own internalized misogyny showing up in her character. While definitely worth a read, it’s worth it to pay attention to the moments where things feel a little bit off and be aware that the writing choices definitely aren’t perfect. This book does contain mentions of abuse and other potentially triggering topics.
No matter what genre you enjoy, there is a book by a Native author waiting to join your bookshelf this November. If you have any suggestions, reactions, or additional opinions on books that you want to share with us, we welcome all emails sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.