Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, illustrations by Rovina Cai

“To dwell on death, especially a premature and violent end, burdens the soul.”
― Darcie Little Badger, Elatsoe

When I started working on this blog, I found the following starred review quote from Shelf-Awareness describing Elatsoe as “A Lipan Apache Sookie Stackhouse for the teen set.” I couldn’t agree more. If you have ever read the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris or watched the television show True Blood, which was based on said series, this book is for you.

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger, illustrations by Rovina Cai, tells the story of Elatsoe, Ellie for short, a Texas teen from the Lipan Apache tribe. She lives in an alternate America where magic shapes their past and present. Her family’s connection to their Indigenous traditions also plays a very important role in her day-to-day life. This manifests through magic and supernatural curses. The people in Ellie’s family have gifts: hers is the ability to raise the spirit of dead animals, particularly that of her dead dog, Kirby. Even in death, he serves as her protector and helper. Her gift is both a blessing and a curse.

Ellie’s family comes together in tragedy when they learn of her cousin’s death. After being told he died in an accidental car crash, Ellie is shocked when his ghost comes to her to say that he was murdered AND drops the name of his killer. Wanting to find the truth, Ellie travels to his town and enlists the help of her family, best friend Jay, and the stories of her ancestors. The mysterious killer proves to be more than they all bargained for. Combine the killer’s behavior with that of the townsfolk and Ellie and Jay are left wondering what exactly is happening in this creepy town and what are they hiding.

This book kept me hooked from start to finish. While it jumps from past to present in a startling manner, that feeds into the narrative that history is closely entwined in our present in a way we cannot escape. Indigenous traditions are woven throughout every little bit of this story, sometimes through actions and other times through storytelling. The author talks about racism and colonialism in America in such a way that even younger readers are able to understand. It is a dark read, but the magical realism throughout adds distance from the tragedy and heartbreak.

“People cope with tragedy in different ways. That’s important, Ellie. There’s no one right method of grieving.”
― Darcie Little Badger, Elatsoe

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