Beyond "Part-Time:" Indigenous Voices in YA
When Sherman Alexie published The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in 2007, the book took the world by storm, helping to boost publisher confidence in books about characters of color. In 2014, several authors teamed up to found We Need Diverse Books, which further helped the mission to create more windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors for a more diverse array of readers. Since then, we’ve seen more characters and authors of color on the shelves, including when it comes to Native and Indigenous stories. While we still have a ways to go, here are nine YA books by Indigenous authors about Indigenous characters. It is important to note that Washington, D.C., including the DC Public Library system, sits on land belonging to the Nacotchtank/Anacostan/Piscataway people.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Chippewa Indian)
Feeling stuck in limbo with an identity that doesn’t fully fit neither her hometown nor the nearby Ojibwe reservation, Daunis is on the verge of something great when a tragedy forces her to give everything up. A spark of light in the dark comes in the form of Jamie, who is easy to fall for even when there may be more to him than first appearances suggest. But Daunis’ world is shaken again when she witnesses a murder and, as a result, goes undercover. Now, Daunis is faced with making an impossible choice that could destroy her community. Also available as an ebook and eaudiobook.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger (Lipan Apache)
In a world like our own but touched by magic, Elatsoe has the ability to raise the dead spirits of animals. When her cousin is murdered, it seems Elatsoe’s skills are perfectly fit to uncover the truth of what happened in a town that would rather keep its secrets. Also available as an ebook and eaudiobook.
Standing Strong by Gary Robinson (Choctaw/Cherokee)
After a suicide attempt, Rhonda is still lost without direction. But when an oil company threatens hallowed Native grounds with pipeline construction, Rhonda finds herself lost in a cause. Armed with her uncle’s knowledge, Rhonda dives into activism even while it remains less popular with her friends. But will her efforts be enough to protect the land and water?
Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek)
Living Native in a predominantly white community is hard, but Louise isn’t about to take racism from anyone, her (now ex) boyfriend included. With more time on her hands, she dives into a project with the school newspaper and is paired with photojournalist Joey. The story of the year is about to break -- a school production of The Wizard of Oz is in the works and the director is intent on inclusive casting. Louise’s town isn’t so pleased with the idea, however, and as the heat rises around the play, so does the relationship between Louise and Joey. Also available as an ebook.
No Name by Tim Tingle (Oklahoma Choctaw)
Based on a traditional Choctaw story, No Name starts with a contemporary teen down on his luck. After his mother abandons him, he finds himself living with his abusive father. Basketball is a welcome escape, but home life eventually becomes too much, leaving the teen with no choice but to run away. As it happens, the perfect place to run away to is a hidden spot in the backyard. But he can’t live this way forever. Catch the sequels, starting with No More No Name.
Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki)
After a plague of sorts comes down on technology and all those who incorporated it into their bodies and wreaks havoc on the world, Lozen is now counted among the lucky as someone who was not originally fortunate enough to take on technological features. As she makes her way through an apocalyptic landscape, Lozen finds another kind of power: ancient and innate magic that strengthens with every battle success. And soon, Lozen begins to understand the gravity of her power and what it means for her as an Apache.
If I Ever Get out of Here by Eric Gansworth (Onondaga Nation)
Tuscarora Indian Reservation, 1975. Lewis is familiar with the beat of life as an Indigenous person in America. Less familiar? People like George being nice to and, much less, befriending him. Despite Lewis’s experience with white people, George is different and the two bond over music. But as they get closer, Lewis struggles to keep up appearances, all while dealing with the usual evils of his life, like Evan, who enjoys torturing Lewis more than anything. Also available as an ebook and eaudiobook.
Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today edited by Lori Marie Carlson
An anthology by authors representing many Indigenous peoples, Moccasin Thunder offers ten stories with themes ranging from coming of age to feeling trapped and more. As diverse as the many Indigenous communities of America, stories from well-known and lesser-known authors depict creationism, life at an American Indian boarding school, rejecting tradition, and other stories.
#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
A powerful and varied collection of poems, essays, interviews, and artwork, Native women of America representing many Indigenous peoples share their experiences. With firsthand accounts of life as Native women, this collection is driven by emotion, purpose, and an undeniable appeal to be seen in a world that has all but forgotten them. Also available as an ebook.