Elatsoe (pronounced el-at-so-ay) by Darcie Little Badger follows Ellie Bride, a Lipan Apache teenager, as she, her ghost dog Kirby, mom, and best friend Jay seek to uncover the truth about the night her cousin was found in a single car crash. This hunt takes them to the little town of Willowbee, where Ellie discovers a town secret that haunts her more than the dead she can wake. In this riveting debut novel, Little Badger crafts a world where magic is the norm and passed down through family lines – Ellie can wake the dead, passed down through her Great-Six Grandmother, and Jay is a direct descendent from the fairy king Oberon – and weaves a tale about family, allies and advocacy, and the ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples. Little Badger handles the topic of colonization with delicacy, approaching it through character dialogue and entwining it with the ending revelation.
One thing I adored about this book was the oral storytelling culture that appears throughout, especially in the tales of Great-Six. These act as teaching moments for both Ellie and the reader, and provide readers a deeper look into Ellie’s family history and relations. At the heart of this novel is a story about a young girl who will do what she can to get justice, and allies who believe and support her and her family when they rightfully claim that her cousin’s death was no accident. In between the detective work, Ellie continues to work on her skill of waking the dead, much to the concern of her mom, but there is one rule passed down with this magic that Ellie plans to abide by: never wake a human ghost. With Dr. Abe Allerton as a suspect, Ellie senses a conspiracy that involves her cousin’s murder, and this is one secret she won’t let stay buried.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger. Levine Querido, August 2020.
Reviewer bio: Heather McCardell is a graduate student at the University of Windsor, studying English Literature and Creative Writing. When not writing essays, she enjoys writing poetry and hiking.
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