Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2022) Featured Review of The Misewa Saga by David A. Robertson

The Misewa Saga Cover Art

The Misewa Saga by David A. Robertson
Penguin Random House Canada/Puffin Books
The Barren Grounds (vol. 1)
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
ISBN: 978-0735266100

The Great Bear (vol. 2)
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
ISBN: 978-0735266131

Indigenous foster kids Morgan and Eli have been separated from their families and placed with a white foster couple in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Both children feel alone and different from everyone around them at their new home and school, but Morgan and Eli have a secret. They can cross into another world — the land of Askí, where across the Barren Grounds they’ve befriended the talking animal villagers of Misewa. All Eli has to do is draw a picture, staple it to the wall of the attic, and he and Morgan can step into a fantasy land. During their first adventure in Askí, the two meet and befriend a fisher named Ochek, the sole remaining hunter of his starving village. Together, they embark on a weeks-long voyage to discover what has happened to the summer birds that are meant to keep the land alive. As they travel, Morgan begins to learn how to live on the land as her people do, and Eli flourishes with opportunities to share his knowledge. Many dangers await, and even if Morgan and Eli do return home, they must figure out how to explain their long absence. 

Months later (book two), Morgan and Eli have discovered that they can spend weeks in Askí while only hours pass at home. They take solace in their time in Misewa, escaping from the stresses of home and school where they continue to feel disconnected from their families and their culture. But when bullies at school steal Eli’s drawing pad, Morgan and Eli are left with only one torn drawing of their friend Ochek as a child. Visiting young Ochek would mean traveling back in time to Misewa’s history, but Morgan and Eli need the comforts of Misewa more than ever. And Misewa needs them too–a Great Bear is ravaging the land, and must be stopped before there’s nothing left of the home-away-from-home they love so much.

Cree author David Alexander Robertson’s Misewa Saga is a portal fantasy immersed in Indigeneity: folklore and traditional knowledge. Morgan and Eli have been taken from their cultures and communities and experience both well-intentioned white foster parents and bigoted schoolmates. Excited to escape through the drawings, they are immersed in an Indigenous worldview, rich with story, community, and respect for self and nature. Angry, frustrated Morgan is struggling with the decision to contact her birth mother; sensitive Eli longs for his home and is bullied at school. In conversation with the tradition of portal fantasies (especially The Chronicles of Narnia), readers will find a subtle environmental message threaded through a unique adventure story populated with captivating talking animals and a couple of relatable, loveable young kids. Morgan and Eli are First Nations Cree; their foster parents and classmates are white.

Give The Misewa Saga books to fans of The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials, and other portal fantasies. Books that focus on themes of environmentalism and sustainability like The Wild Robot (Peter Brown) and Pax (Sara Pennypacker) are natural recommendations for The Misewa Saga. Readers of other Indigenous fiction like Darcie Little Badger’s A Snake Falls to Earth, Erdrich’s The Birchbark House series, and Christine Day’s The Sea in Winter will also love spending time with Morgan, Eli, Ocheck, and friends. 

Matt Clark and Kali Olson

Other Nominated Titles

  • A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee (August 3, 2021)
  • Little Thieves by Margaret Owen (October 5, 2021)

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination. 

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten. The previous years’ lists are available on The Hub.