6 Books by Native American Authors to Add to your TBR
I’m going to be honest: this post has gone through many revisions in the past 24 hours; it started as a way to encourage others to combat the consumerism of Black Friday and the holiday season with doing good. It’s that time of the year again where stores lure us in with deep discounts and even I, a minimalist, get sucked into the hype of deep discounts and buy items that I don’t really want or need.
But while writing this post, it began to evolve into a discussion on the unedited history of Thanksgiving in America. About my personal feelings of discomfort celebrating a holiday that is rooted on colonial genocide. For this day of thanks and gratitude, for many Americans this day is the National Day of Mourning and a painful reminder of the country’s dark history.
After much reflection, the most important message I wanted to make was to support Native American authors. The final product was this list of six Native American books by own-voices authors. The greatest thing about reading is that you are able to travel and experience the world from your favorite reading spot, and reading diversely not only ensures that more diverse books are published but also breeds empathy and respect for people different from you. I hope that while you are filling your carts with books for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales that you consider picking up one of these books! I finally bought a copy of Trail of Lightning and would love to arrange a buddy read if anyone else is interested.
6 Books by Native American own-voices authors you need to check out
Through personal research and the help of Twitter, below is a list of recommended books by Native American authors. Titles link to the Goodreads page, I am not using affiliate links in this post.
While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.
Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.
Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.
As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.
Welcome to the Sixth World.
There There by Tommy Orange is a contemporary, literary fiction story set in Oakland, CA. This book was just named a nominee for the Aspen Words Literary Prize!
Fierce, angry, funny, heartbreaking—Tommy Orange’s first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen, and it introduces a brilliant new author at the start of a major career.
There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.
Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with stunning urgency and force. Tommy Orange writes of the urban Native American, the Native American in the city, in a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. An unforgettable debut, destined to become required reading in schools and universities across the country.
Murder on the Red River by Marcie Rendon is a mystery/historical fiction novel set in Fargo, ND in the 1970s.
Cash and Sheriff Wheaton make for a strange partnership. He pulled her from her mother’s wrecked car when she was three. He’s kept an eye out for her ever since. It’s a tough place to live—northern Minnesota along the Red River. Cash navigated through foster homes, and at thirteen was working farms. She’s tough as nails—Five feet two inches, blue jeans, blue jean jacket, smokes Marlboros, drinks Bud Longnecks. Makes her living driving truck. Playing pool on the side. Wheaton is big lawman type. Scandinavian stock, but darker skin than most. He wants her to take hold of her life. Get into Junior College. So there they are, staring at the dead Indian lying in the field. Soon Cash was dreaming the dead man’s cheap house on the Red Lake Reservation, mother and kids waiting. She has that kind of power. That’s the place to start looking. There’s a long and dangerous way to go to find the men who killed him. Plus there’s Jim, the married white guy. And Longbraids, the Indian guy headed for Minneapolis to join the American Indian Movement.
Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith is a young adult contemporary romance.
New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith turns to realistic fiction with the thoughtful story of a Native teen navigating the complicated, confusing waters of high school — and first love.
When Louise Wolfe’s first real boyfriend mocks and disrespects Native people in front of her, she breaks things off and dumps him over e-mail. It’s her senior year, anyway, and she’d rather spend her time with her family and friends and working on the school newspaper. The editors pair her up with Joey Kairouz, the ambitious new photojournalist, and in no time the paper’s staff find themselves with a major story to cover: the school musical director’s inclusive approach to casting The Wizard of Oz has been provoking backlash in their mostly white, middle-class Kansas town. From the newly formed Parents Against Revisionist Theater to anonymous threats, long-held prejudices are being laid bare and hostilities are spreading against teachers, parents, and students — especially the cast members at the center of the controversy, including Lou’s little brother, who’s playing the Tin Man. As tensions mount at school, so does a romance between Lou and Joey — but as she’s learned, “dating while Native” can be difficult. In trying to protect her own heart, will Lou break Joey’s?
Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac is a middle grade fantasy/horror story.
Ever since the morning Molly woke up to find that her parents had vanished, her life has become filled with terrible questions. Where have her parents gone? Who is this spooky old man who’s taken her to live with him, claiming to be her great-uncle? Why does he never eat, and why does he lock her in her room at night? What are her dreams of the Skeleton Man trying to tell her? There’s one thing Molly does know. She needs to find some answers before it’s too late.
Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson is a young adult contemporary. This book was just named a nominee for the Aspen Words Literary Prize!
Finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction
With his single mother in jail, Sequoyah, a fifteen-year-old Cherokee boy, is placed in foster care with the Troutt family. Literally and figuratively scarred by his unstable upbringing, Sequoyah has spent years mostly keeping to himself, living with his emotions pressed deep below the surface—that is, until he meets the seventeen-year-old Rosemary, another youth staying with the Troutts.
Sequoyah and Rosemary bond over their shared Native American backgrounds and tumultuous paths through the foster care system, but as Sequoyah’s feelings toward Rosemary deepen, the precariousness of their lives and the scars of their pasts threaten to undo them both.
📝 I want to note that there are also a lot of fantastic books by First Nations own voices authors, but for the purposes of this particular post I opted to limit to Native American in honor of the National Day of Mourning. I hope to do more diverse recommendation posts in the future where I will widen the scope.
If you have the money to spare and are interested in making charitable donations this holiday season, here are a couple of charities that support Native Americans:
Let’s go on another adventure together!