Review of Elatsoe

by Darcie Little Badger; illus. by Rovina Cai
Middle School, High School    Levine Querido    368 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-64614-005-3    $18.99

This absorbing and haunting speculative fiction debut challenges expectations at every turn. Ellie (short for Elatsoe) is seventeen years old, Lipan Apache, and an aspiring paranormal investigator. She has inherited her Six-Great-Grandmother’s ability to awaken the spirits of the dead, a talent she regularly employs (notably, the ghost of Kirby, her beloved English springer spaniel). When Ellie’s cousin Trevor dies suddenly, his spirit appears in a dream, revealing that he was murdered and pleading for help. This leads Ellie, her family, and her best friend to the (fictional) southern Texas town of Willowbee, a disturbing setting with a pristine façade and dark secrets. Little Badger effectively weaves stories within stories in this multilayered, metaphorical, and magical mystery. Plot, setting, and dialogue are eerily and compellingly delineated; reflections on counternarratives and colonialism are woven seamlessly alongside subplots containing fairy rings, vampires, evil wizard doctors, and the underworld. As Ellie uncovers more about what happened to her cousin, she also develops deeper understandings about herself and about history: “History is intrinsically malleable. Even without magic. It’s carried in our minds, our records.” Cai’s grayscale chapter illustrations reinforce mood as well as broader themes of identity, history, and family.

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elisa Gall

Elisa Gall is a teacher-librarian at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. 

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