Using Stories to Kick Racist Butt in Elatsoe



By Darcie Little Badger

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Young Adult/Speculative

QUILTBAG Main Character: Aro/Ace Lead

QUILTBAG Minor Character: No

Main Character of Color: Yes

Bechdel Test: Yes

Summary: Elatsoe’s world is not unlike our own. She goes to high school. She’s just got her driver’s license, though she still rides her bike most places — normal high school things. That her pet is a ghost dog is not too unusual, nor that her best friend’s sister is dating a vampire. Totally normal. But this normal-for-her world is shattered when a beloved cousin dies unexpectedly. The police say it was a car crash, but Elatsoe knows better. Her cousin tells her in a dream not only of his murder, but who the murderer is. Now Elatsoe and her friends must find out the truth and bring justice to a killer. But can they do so before the sleeping malice rises to do it for them?

Let’s Get A Little Deep:

Stories are powerful. Humans have been telling stories for as long as we’ve been speaking. Before we even had letters or a means of writing, we were telling stories. Stories tell us who we were and who we might be. They allow us to imagine others complexly, to see our place in the world, to help discover who we might be. Elatsoe is a novel, a story, but within this story are many others. Perfectly slipping between Elatsoe’s current struggles and the stories of her family’s and friends’ past, this novel is about learning from the stories of our past and using those stories to help us find great power in ourselves.

I’m a big fan of slightly alternate worlds. I love the idea of the supernatural just skimming the world we inhabit. Elatsoe is an America not dissimilar to our own, with its horrible and racist history that colors the lives of ever indiginious person here, not to mention Black, Latinx, and Asian people. The difference in Elatsoe’s America is that ghosts are real, so are vampires, and so is magic. 

While Elatsoe’s magic is mostly gentle, waking spirits of animals to act as companions and helpers, it holds the ability to be powerful and even deadly. Much of the magic in the world acts this way, with the nature of the magic depending on how it is being used. Vampires, for example, are perfectly capable of living peacefully with humans, should they choose to do so. Her best friend Jay’s sister is in love with such a vampire. Others, however, might have no trouble sucking the life out of an infant if it suits their needs. It is all in what we choose to do with the power we are given. 

The monsters that take Elatsoe’s cousin from his wife and children have power, and they use that power at the cost of mostly indiginous lives. Using actual magic as a metaphor for the real harm white people have caused indiginous people makes for a powerful story indeed. It is in stories, after all, that Elatsoe finds the power to end the suffering happening around her and bring justice to those harmed.

It is an incredible read, one that presses firmly between my ribs as I read it. I loved the world building, I loved all the stories within the story, and I loved watching Elatsoe grow in power and in spirit. This is the kind of book that I will reread because there is so much to dive into, far more than I can fit in a standard review. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up today!

Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love Elatsoe? Leave a comment telling me what animal you would pick as a ghost companion. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.

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