Encompassing a wide range of genres from historical fiction to fantasy to poetry to investigative journalism to memoir, this exciting abundance of books published in 2023 by emerging and acclaimed Native writers speak to the rich diversity of the Indigenous experience. From meditations on the lasting impact of climate change and the destructive legacy of Indian boarding schools, to coming of age memoirs and novels that interweave traditional mythology with elements of mystery and thriller, here are 16 new works by and about Native North American writers that should not be missed:
Sisters of the Lost Nation by Nick Medina
Growing up on a reservation, Anna Horn has always been aware of the weight of her tribe’s history. Besides the tourists crowding the casinos, there’s also the strange and sinister events haunting the reservation, including a spiritual entity from an ancient tribal myth that follows Anna everywhere. When girls on the reservation begin to disappear, including Anna’s own little sister, she becomes convinced the key to the mystery lies in her tribe’s ancestral legends. Merging thriller with mythological horror and Native American tribal myths, Nick Medina spins a gripping tale about the importance of remembering tradition while forging one’s own path.
Stealing by Margaret Verble
In the 1950s, Kit Crockett and her widowed father live on a small farm in the Midwest, where she befriends her new neighbor Bella. After finding herself at the center of a tragic crime, Kit is removed from her father’s custody at the age of twelve and becomes a ward of the court. Although her Cherokee family wants to raise her, she is instead sent to a religious boarding school, where she is subjected to abuse and religious indoctrination. Instead of giving in to her circumstances, Kit keeps a journal chronicling her experiences and plotting a way out. This eye-opening story was originally written in 2007, but didn’t find an audience until the Canadian First Nations boarding school scandal broke in 2021. With this renewed social context, Verble powerfully examines the impact of forced Christianity on Indigenous children who had their family, language, and culture brutally ripped away.
Swim Home to the Vanished by Brendan Shay Basham
After his little brother Kai disappears into a river, grief-stricken Damien abandons his small town and job as a line cook and finds refuge in a remote fishing village. The day he arrives, the town buries a young woman from their most powerful family. The woman’s mother Ana Maria offers Damien a place to stay and a job, but rumors soon start that he may have been involved in her daughter’s death. He also forges a connection with Marta, Ana Maria’s surviving daughter whose grief drives her desire for revenge. Damien soon finds himself caught in a power struggle between the brujas, one influenced by Diné creation stories and the Long Walk, or the forced removal of the Navajo from their land. Swim Home to the Vanished powerfully explores the lasting impact of grief and redemption by interweaving Diné history and traditional myths.
Life Is Not Useful by Ailton Krenak
Indigenous thinker and leader Ailton Krenak critiques the destruction of climate change, consumerism and colonialism in this powerful call to action. Examining how Brazil’s Indigenous people have survived despite centuries of oppression, Ailton meditates on the long-lasting threats to not only Indigenous populations but all of society from forces such as pandemics, the rise of right-wing political movements, and global warming. He questions the value of returning to normal when “normal” is “a vision of humanity divorced from nature, actively devastating the planet and digging deep trenches of inequality between people and societies.” Taking a stance against Western consumerism, he advocates for creating deep and meaningful change in our daily lives and forging a profound connection with the Earth.
A Council of Dolls by Mona Susan Power
A Council of Dolls interweaves the stories of three generations of Yanktonai Dakota women from the 19th century to today, explored through the dolls they carried. Cora is born in 1888 in the midst of the “Indian Wars” and removed to a brutal Indian boarding school across the country, where her beloved buckskin doll Winona is burned by her teachers. Lillian is born on her ancestral lands in 1925, and she too is forced into a school far from her home with only her sister Blanche and doll Mae for comfort. Born in Chicago in 1961, Sissy struggles with her difficult relationship with her mother but finds solace in a new Christmas present, a doll called Ethel who whispers her advice. Through this imaginative intergenerational storytelling, A Council of Dolls spotlights the lasting damage caused by Indigenous boarding schools and how Native people endured despite it all.
Removal Acts by Erin Marie Lynch
A haunting response to the 1863 Federal Act that banished the Dakota tribe from their ancestral lands, this debut collection powerfully explores the lasting effects of historical violence. Merging multimedia forms such as lyrics, family photos, primary documents, Internet searches, chronologies and sequences, these poems attempt to reckon with the government-sanctioned genocide of the Dakota people. Lynch interweaves the stories of two of her ancestors with her own recovery from bulimia to explore the twinned legacies of historical and self erasure. The result is a moving meditation on “removal” in its many forms that melds together the personal and historical to craft a testament to Indigenous resilience and survival in the face of eradication.
Never Whistle at Night: an Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Across many Indigenous legends, whistling at night can prompt evil spirits to appear and follow you home. Responding to these tribal myths, these original spooky tales introduce readers to creatures from Indigenous mythology, ghosts, curses, complex family histories, and desperate acts of vengeance. Introduced by Stephen Graham Jones, this collection gathers together a spine-chilling range of stories from many of the most exciting Indigenous literary voices, celebrating the power of Native imagination.
A Song Over Miskwaa Rapids by Linda Legarde Grover
Returning to the fictional Ojibwe reservation in northern Minnesota where she has set her previous novels, Linda LeGarde Grover tells the story of Margie Robineau, a woman fighting to defend her family’s land from a casino development while uncovering the buried secrets of Half-Dime Hill. When a rock is suddenly dislodged, the hill reveals not only an escape plan across the Canadian border but far more gruesome hidden secrets. For the people of Mozhay Point, the past is inextricably connected to the present, reinforced by a chorus of spirit women who spin tales combining family lore, history and mythology. In this intimate and suspenseful novel, Grover explores the complex evolving relationship between a place and the people who inhabit it.
Birding While Indian by Thomas C. Gannon
Birding While Indian traces Thomas C. Gannon’s childhood to the present day through reflections on birds he observed and recorded during his life as part-Lakota inhabitant of the Great Plains. Birding serves as a source of solace during Gannon’s traumatic experience in an Indian boarding school in South Dakota and colonialism’s erasure of native lands and peoples alike. Through bird watching, Gannon navigates his own exploration of his mixed identity while finding himself in nature and the words of Indigenous authors. More than a memoir, Birding While Indian is a rich reflection on one man’s journey to forge a relationship with the natural world.
Unbroken by Angela Sterritt
Once a Gitxsan teenager navigating life on the streets of British Columbia and documenting her experiences in her journal to survive, Angela Sterritt is an acclaimed journalist shedding light on the danger and violence facing Indigenous women and girls. In this breathtaking debut, Sterritt merges memoir and investigative journalism to not only reflect on her own backstory but carry out investigative reporting into cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, demonstrating how colonialism and racism devalue their lives. Sterritt relied on her Indigenous community as her journey led her to college and finding her voice as an investigative journalist, and her empathy for victims and survivors drives her investigations into the lives of the missing women society often overlooks. Exposing racism and demanding accountability from the media and the public, Sterritt demonstrates the enduring strength of Indigenous women healing from the trauma of the past.
Thinning Blood by Leah Myers
Leah Myers, the last member of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in her bloodline, pens an intimate memoir that excavates the stories of four generations of women in her family. Beginning with her great-grandmother, the last full-blooded Native member, she constructs her family’s totem pole, where a totem represents each woman: protective Bear, defiant Salmon, compassionate Hummingbird, and finally Raven. She weaves in personal anecdotes, tribal folktales, Native history and mythology to tell the wider story of how “her culture is being bleached out.” A reclamation of and testament to her Native identity, Thinning Blood is a powerful meditation on the importance of heritage and family ties.
Searching for Savanna by Mona Gable
In the summer of 2017 in Fargo, North Dakota, twenty-two-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was eight months pregnant at the time, disappeared. A week later, police arrested her white upstairs neighbors after discovering them with her newborn baby girl, before finding her body floating in a nearby river. The horrifying crime drew renewed attention to the epidemic of sexual and physical violence encountered by Native women and girls. Searching for Savanna confronts this dehumanization of Indigenous women and the complicity of government inaction. Featuring personal testimony, interviews, and trial analysis, Searching for Savanna investigates these atrocities and the decades-long struggle by Indigenous activists for meaningful change.
And Then She Fell by Alicia Elliott
A young Indigenous woman, Alice, moves with her white husband Steve and baby daughter Dawn to a new home in Toronto, where she is the only Indigenous person in the neighborhood. Alice struggles to connect with Dawn after the recent loss of her own mother and spends her time hiding from her watchful neighbors instead of fulfilling her goal of writing a modern retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story. As strange events begin happening, like hearing voices and her neighbors’ increasingly threatening behavior, Alice becomes convinced that finishing the creation story is the key to her and Dawn’s survival. And Then She Fell is an urgent and darkly funny exploration of inherited trauma, womanhood and false allyship that spirals toward an increasingly unpredictable and surreal ending.
A Grandmother Begins the Story by Michelle Porter
In this brilliant debut novel, five generations of Métis women tell the stories that will bring healing to their family and the land itself. Carter is a recently separated young mother on a quest to uncover the heritage she only learned about as a teenager. Her mother Allie is trying to make up for the lost years and protect Carter from her hurtful relationship with her own mother. Lucie wants her granddaughter Carter to help her join her ancestors in the Afterlife, and Geneviève aims to conquer her demons with the help of her lost sister. In the Afterlife, Mamé must disconnect herself from the last threads tethering her to the living so they can find their own way forward. Narrated by a diverse chorus of characters, this novel explores the importance of intergenerational connections and Indigenous storytelling.
Blood Sisters by Vanessa Lillie
Syd Walker is an archaeologist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs who protects Rhode Island’s indigenous past after escaping her hometown in rural Oklahoma. Haunted by a long-ago night of violence, Syd’s sister Emma Lou suddenly vanishes just as a skull is discovered near the former crime scene. Syd finally returns home, refusing to let her sister’s disappearance be ignored like the cases of so many missing Indigenous women. The deeper she digs, the more she discovers about cases of missing Indigenous women going back decades, forcing her to expose the darkness at the heart of the town’s history.
The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters
In July 1962, a Mi’kmaq family from Nova Scotia arrives in Maine for the summer to pick blueberries. Just weeks later, their youngest child, four-year-old Ruthie, vanishes after she was last seen by her six-year-old brother Joe at the edge of the berry field. Joe will mourn his sister’s disappearance for years. In the meantime, a young girl named Norma grows up as the only child of two affluent, distant parents, where she is troubled by recurring dreams and visions she gradually comes to believe are memories. She spends decades trying to uncover her family secrets, eventually unraveling a fifty-year-old unsolved mystery. This powerful debut novel examines the search for truth in the face of trauma and the enduring nature of family love.