Review: Elatsoe - Darcie Little Badger
Genre: Magical Realism, Young-Adult
Published: Levine Querido, August 2020
My Rating: 5/5 stars, all-time favourite
Elatsoe (both the character and the story) has had a special place in my heart since I first read it in 2021, yet this re-read cemented it as a definitive all-time favourite.
Nothing is harder to review than a feeling a book gives you, but I’ll do my best anyway. Elatsoe is what I imagine a hug made out of paper and words to feel like. Not just any hug though… A hug after hard times; a bit like a comforting embrace following a funeral. A hug in which you know that sad things are happening around you, but you will get through it together, because you’re safe in the connection to your loved ones.
Elatsoe tells the story of a Lipan Apache teen, who lives in an America quite similar to our own. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. When Ellie’s beloved cousin becomes the victim in a horrible crime, she sets off on a journey for answers. Along the way, she’s helped by her inherited talent for communicating with- and raising ghosts. With the wisdom of her ancestors, including her namesake Six-great Grandmother, and her the loyal ghost of their late family dog Kirby, Ellie sets off on a quest to protect the community she loves. A quest that will take her from the mysterious neighboring town of Willowbee to the depths of the underworld…
Connections and the power of family
Ellie’s journey is far from easy. Despite the warm feeling this book has, Darcie Little Badger never shies away from difficult topics like grief, discrimination, and violence- and injustice against native communities. What sets Ellie apart from many other YA-protagonists though, is that she’s never alone in facing these challenges. Her bravery to face them comes not from the typical teen-bravado, but from the confidence that she is embedded and backed by a support system that tracks back generations. Family is at the core of this novel. They may not always agree with each-other, but they are always present to back Ellie and catch her when she falls. The foundation of this support system go back decades, and even transcend death, as Ellie knows herself to be supported by not only her living relatives, but the ghosts of her ancestors as well. I love this message to my core. Death doesn’t mean gone from your life: the support your family and loved ones gave you, the challenges they overcame… you carry that with you, as the legacy they leave behind.
Note that any time I mention “family”, I’m not only talking about blood relatives. Jay, Ellie’s best friend, feels as much part of the family as the others. Ellie, and of course in extension Darcie, knows how family can be made from the people you surround yourself with.
Keeping an open mind to a beautiful world
Open mindedness and curiosity are another core theme of Elatsoe. You’d have to, living in a world like Ellie’s. To quote her “Even if most urban legends were fictitious, Ellie had a ghost dog companion. When it came to strange stuff, she could not be too open-minded”.
Ellie and her family take this inquisitive and tolerant worldview towards the supernatural elements, but also towards any real-life differences they encounter. For example: Ellie is asexual (mentioned on page) and nobody makes a big deal of this, including her best friend Jay. This shouldn’t be that rare in YA-literature, but it creates a beautiful kind of world, and one that I’d love to live in.
Speaking of beautiful worlds: the imagery in Elatsoe is stunning, especially when it comes to the underworld. This is only enhanced by the physical beauty of the hardback, adorned with illustrations throughout. Chef’s kiss to the illustrator and cover-artist.
If you’ve made it this far into my gush, I don’t know what else to say to convince you to read this book honestly. Elatsoe is a beautifully inclusive, supportive, and important novel that mixes socially relevant themes with humor, phenomenal characters and a great support-system for our protagonists. It also has a lovable ghost-dog, so if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will… 😉
Massive thanks goes to Kayla from BooksandLala, without whom I’d have never found this gem.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.