Books Outside The Box: Native Americans
I watched The Lone Ranger when I was a kid, and for me it was always about Tonto. Ditto for the Lone Ranger movie. (Not the world’s greatest movie, but it helped that Tonto was played by Johnny Depp.) Native Americans have been everything from sidekicks to villains in American literature. This month I am going to highlight some Native American heroes and heroines in YA paranormal, dystopian, paranormal, science fiction, and contemporary fiction.
Wolf Mark, by Joseph Bruchac, was published by Tu books in 2011. The author draws from his Abenaki ancestry in creating Luke, a seventeen-year-old Abenaki boy who discovers he is also a Skinwalker. He was born with a second. When he puts it on, he becomes a wolf. Luke comes from a long line of skinwalkerswho have served their leaders with honor. His father recently retired from the special services, only to become the town drunk. Luke finds that was all deep cover after his father is kidnapped. Luke has to pull on his wolf skin before his training is complete. That leaves him struggling to retain his humanity while he fights to save his family from industrialists ready to kill them for their secret abilities.
Bruchac’s newest YA is a dystopian called Killer of Enemies coming from Tu Books in September 2013. Lozen, the Apache teen heroine named after her ancestor, a 19th century warrior woman who battled alongside Geronimo, is skilled at hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship, and wilderness survival, and blessed with superior strength. In a future Earth stripped of electricity and technology, her growing psychic abilities open her mind to strange thoughts, including an unknown who stalks her and considers her “Little Food.” A group of four less-than-sane warlords kill her father and take her mother and younger siblings hostage. To keep her family safe, Lozen is forced to hunt and destroy monsters for them. These include creatures straight out of some of mankind’s oldest legends, genetically engineered creatures released to hunt their former masters when technology was lost, and vampire-like beings with hypnotic powers and a desire for her blood.
The use of Apache culture and legends bring a new layer to the otherwise ordinary dystopian story-world. Lozen’s abilities, strength, courage and determination to save her family will appeal to action lovers of any gender, from teen to adult. The book provokes tantalizing thoughts about what the ever-accelerating demand for technology might have cost the human race, and about the price to be paid for the pursuit of perfection and longevity.
Time Trap by Micah Caida, published by Silver Hawk Press in 2013, is the first of a new series about a Native American girl who wakes up in the desert with amnesia. All she sees is the ghostly spirit of an elder who tells her a few facts before he disappears: her name is Rayen, she is seventeen, she will die if she eats peanuts, and she needs to run. Readers may need a little patience in the beginning of Time Trap. Rayen constantly tells us what she doesn’t know, leaving a reader confused by her and what to expect when she is temporarily placed in a special school while authorities try to identify her. Then she and two other students fall into a computer, the way Alice fell down a rabbit hole, and a non-stop battle for survival begins. After that the book is non-stop action in a battle between science and mysticism, with love, friendship and the future of the human race in the balance.
Micah Caida is a pseudonym for two authors who chose a Native American protagonist to add a new dimension to the protagonist. One of the authors has Blackfoot Indian in her ancestry; the other’s father was an honorary Kwakiutl tribal member. Their research included visits to Southwest area pueblos, and traveling through Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Colorado and Utah.
Eric Gansworth‘s 2013 book, If I Ever Get Out of Here, published in 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books, takes us back to the world-changing 1970s. Lewis is the only Native American in the advanced track at his school, which means he goes through the day friendless. He cuts off his braid in an effort to get kids to see him differently. The only result of that is his own feeling of loss. But he does get a friend: George, a new transfer from the nearly army base. The two outsiders become best friends through music, and the music of the 70s fills the book. The Beatles and Wings, Clapton, Queen, and Bowie are only some of the sounds that prove important during the two years the book covers. These were the days when vinyl was king, and 8-tracks an experiment, when there were no cell phones or social media, and “friending” someone meant spending actual face-to-face time with them. And bullies had to use real weapons. Lewis suffers bullying under the blind eyes of both teachers and students who blame the Indian. Those of us who remember the 70s understand his decision to use a non-violent protest, even though he hurts himself in the process, to let the world know that he deserves to be safe inside school. The book doesn’t try to beat a history lesson but watching Lewis and George explore their history may help today’s teens better understand their own parents and grandparents. It’s for anyone who loves music from the seventies, the best music decade ever. Eric Gansworth is a member of the Onendaga Nation. He gives us a fun book, and an honest look at cultural differences; how different people can clash and still come together.
No list of books featuring Native American protagonists would be complete without The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, published in 2007 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and named a 2008 Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten selection. Both funny and heart-wrenching, the story of Junior’s journey from the rez school to the local all-white high school is unforgettable. The author is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, and a comedian, and puts much of his own life on the reservation into this book. It is wonderful coming-of-age story full of hope.
-B. A. Binns, currently reading The Lynching of Louie Sam by Elizabeth Stewart, and listening to Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card.