Imagine an America very similar to our own. It's got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.
There are some differences. This America has been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.
Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.
I don't know how to review this one other than to say that it was unlike anything else I've ever read in the best way and you neeeeeeeeed to read it. This book was so well written and surprising and I feel like I'm going to be thinking about it for years to come. I highly recommend!
I wanted to love this book so much. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it, and I was even pondering possibly teaching it. I mean, it's got ghosts and monsters, Lipan Apache history and culture, and crimes to solve! And, it started out great -- lovely writing, pithy dialogue, and all the rest I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, it read very middle grade instead of young adult, and the pithy dialogue popped up in the midst of pivotal, tense scenes, taking away from the plot and tone. I still LOVED the Lipan Apache aspect -- in fact, I enjoyed every time an elder shared a tradition or story -- but, as the characters went into detective mode, I felt like I was reading a Scooby Doo script. And then, the antagonist literally calls the main character and her sidekick, "meddling kids", just like in Scooby Doo. I was disappointed, and -- after reading other reviews -- I might be the only reader who felt this way. I finished the book, but... this needed a 12-year-old protagonist and a middle grade marketing campaign.
4.5 stars I freaking adore this book!!! I love the concept, I love Ellie’s character, I love that she’s asexual cause it���s so uncommon to see that rep in a main character! I love how this is fantasy but it’s exactly the kind of ~light fantasy that I enjoy! This was such a unique and fun world to explore. I adore Ellie and her family 🥺
This was so disappointing for me, I really wanted to love this. To start with the narrative voice felt very young and it was jarring every time you were reminded that the main character was 17. This whole story would have worked better if it had just embraced being a middle grade story. Next the conversations between people and the way information was revealed was just very awkward most of the time. For example near the beginning of the book she is with her best friend and out of nowhere and for absolutely no reason he conjures a light and is like hey....I’m a descendent of Oberon, and Ellie is all shocked. It just felt so weird, your best friend would already know that and be aware that you were practicing magic, it just felt like a really lazy attempt at world building. Conversations and events like that kept happening that felt so out of place and awkward. It didn’t ever feel like world building occurred...random creatures just kept getting thrown in at random times (see fairy best friend for no reason) they just tended to muddle the story and feel out of place. The only parts I liked were the stories about great-six....I just want a whole book about her adventures. I also enjoyed Ellie’s ghost raising powers, I wish we had spent more time focused on that and her families lore...like why didn’t we get to hang out with grandma and the ghost mammoth? It spent so much time in other random scattered places that didn’t contribute to the narrative or the world in a meaningful way. There was no need to spend so much time with Jay’s sister and her engagement and why his parents are mad about it....why was that there?? The story felt choppy and dragged down with unnecessary information that was just dumped on you out of nowhere. Great-six tales and badass Grandma with a ghost mammoth...yes please, the rest...meh
Sorry to say this, but the major hype here is mostly unearned. Uninteresting characters, poor dialog and incomprehensible, half-baked and messy world building.
P.S. Had a book club yesterday, and the best praise that was produced sounded like this - "it's not the worst book I've ever read," which says it all - it never happens that at least one person in our reading group likes a book. This was very, very unfinished and unedited.
This book scared the soul out of my body but also filled me with joy. Little Badger is a master storyteller, so much is clear. This book is rich with creativity and wisdom. So many good things bound into one little tome, I can’t possibly list them all. What stood out was the wonderful parent-child relationship and how family played such a central role. Can’t say I’ve read a book before where instead of a kid hiding secrets from their parents, the parents join in on the adventure and the entire family goes to solve a murder and save lives together. Love a book that holds surprise.
If she concentrated, Ellie could feel her consciousness brush countless others; they were ghosts in the underworld Below. She wondered if she could wake them all up. How long would they play in the dark until they drifted off to sleep again?
This has now won the First Novel Locus! So deserved - if you've been thinking about picking this one up, there's no better time :)
I'd been hanging out for this book since I read the synopsis - it's finally here and it is so good!
At the most basic level, we've got a murder mystery - always a good start - but there's so much more. Ellie (Elatsoe) lives in a United States very similar to our own, though magic, fairies, and vampires (at least) exist. She's got the family gift of calling to the dead, one passed down through the women of the family as they reach their teens (just wait til you get to the one who uses a mammoth for help with her weekly grocery shop!). But it's not all helpful prehistory - it's made clear that there's big risks involved if you overreach or don't think your calling through.
The illustrations are lovely, and the writing is straightforward and simple, but so readable. It almost skews it a little younger to me, and the protagonists are an ambiguous teen age (though I'd guess 15-16) which furthered that impression. That is, until the stakes (heh) started to raise, and some of the horror elements came to the front more - they were delightfully creepy, too! I would maybe have liked a tad more worldbuilding, but you're definitely not left without enough information for the story. It's just that this world sounds absolutely fascinating, and after what we were shown, I definitely want more.
Despite the potentially ghoulish themes, overall this book was an absolute delight. When the world is falling apart, it's always nice to have an uplifting escape.
Elatsoe blew me away! What a marvel of storytelling. This story blends mystery, paranormal, and noir, and I just loved how creative and exciting this story was. I'll never forget this gorgeous story, and can't wait to see what Darcie writes next.
- In a world where paranormal beings walk among us, the story follows Elatsoe or Ellie, a Lipan Apache teen who can raise the spirit of the dead. When her cousin appears to her in a dream and claims to have been murdered, Elatsoe sets on solving the mystery of his death - and in doing so may upend the seemingly idyllic town in which the murder took place. - The vibes of this book are hard to pin down, but if I had to choose two words... I'd say 'warm' and 'spooky'. Which makes it seem like a weird mix, but the storytelling is so good that it works! - I loved that this was a love letter to storytelling. Many parts of Ellie's past and adventure are connected to a story about her family history and ancestry, and I thought that was gorgeous; that our ancestors live on in the stories that we pass on. - There's no romance in this book, and I loved the friendships - especially between Ellie and Jay, her blonde himbo best friend, and Kirby, the spirit of her dead dog. - I also loved how creatively the story interweaves Native-American identity and paranormal folklore and myths! I won't spoil which part - I'll leave that to you to find out - but there's this absolutely epic part to do with vampires and how Ellie's mother fights them off. - I loved, loved, loved this and I cannot wait to see what Darcie writes next.
Content warning: death of a loved one, murder, physical and supernatural violence, racism
I'm hard pressed to describe what this reading experience is like, but it is definitely unique in a wonderful way! This feels almost like a Scooby Doo mystery but if monsters are real and there are actual themes/pathos underlying the story? I think that's as close as I can get to describing what this book is like, but it is obviously so much more. The character work is the real stand out for me, as well as world building, but I felt like the plot didn't fully come together as strongly as I would have liked. That said, I really enjoyed this urban fantasy YA story and will definitely be checking for more from this author
I read Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger a while back, and I’m still thinking about it. The main character, Ellie, is a delightful adventurer who can bring creatures back from the dead (including her adorable dog, and a trilobite!) With the help of her best friend and her mom, she solves a murder where she already knows who the murderer was. I don’t want to give too much away, but this book is a delightful adventure (that would make a wonderful TV show) and there’s so much that I adore about it. I love that we get to have a YA with a plucky hero whose mom is supportive of her adventures, and also that she’s interested in science as well as ghost stuff. And the clash between indigenous magic and European magic also feels really fresh and exciting—Elatsoe felt like a great companion piece to Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn. Oh, and the illustrations by Rovina Cai are heartbreakingly good.
A supernatural fantasy told from an apache POV. I'm always trying to find different POV and styles of writing while reading. Very entertaining once i caught onto the style. Which is safe to say isn't taught in English class. But is more recognizable a style than Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Elatsoe (what a beautiful name you have to hear the way it's pronounced it means hummingbird) is a Lipan apache girl living in a world like our own but with ancestry magic. Her family can bring sprits back from the dead. the power is passed along the female line and Elatsoe has used it to bring back her dog Kirby. That make this a dog lover's book if I could I'd make a dog lover GR group. Anyway if you love animals you should enjoy the respect they are shown in general here. Her cousin dies and she vows to protect his family from the murder. A rich affluent doctor with a supernatural secret. the town willowbee protects him and is incorporated into his power. She the little apache girl must take on a town and her cousins vengeful ghost to bring their great atrocities to justice.
This never shies away from the apaches violent past even among other tribes the apache have a reputation. Making them the heroes fighting for survival and never making excuses. although there is a lot of blame cast on the colonist. the Indigenous POV is well represented here and is a highlight of the novel. the writing style which is described as Apache storytelling structure was not hard to follow just different. I must admit I found it amateurish at first but i really got into the narrative and forgot all critics by the end.
There is so much in native folklore I'm excited to see it coming more to pop culture. so many tribes and different cultures with such developed storytelling and myths.
This month's Sword and Laser pick is a YA novel about Eli, an Apache teen who has a passed down ability to call up the dead. When her cousin dies, he visits her in a dream and tells her that he was murdered. From ghost dogs to a different take on vampires, the novel is full of interesting beings and the ethical ramifications of supernatural gifts.
I think there are some unique takes here and it ended up on a lot of 2020 lists. The end is pretty epic!
Elatsoe is a really impressive debut that feels unlike a lot of what I've read. This reads like younger YA, where you could probably give it to a 13 or 14 year old and be fine because while it does deal with some dark subject matter, it's handled in a way that doesn't feel overly dark.
This is a contemporary urban fantasy, set it a somewhat fantastical version of the US where things like vampires, ghosts, shifters, and alien fae exist. Elatsoe is Lipan Apache and aroace (aromantic/asexual) which is really cool to see in such a solid YA book. She also has the ability to speak to the dead and has a ghost dog best friend. When her cousin dies in an apparent accident, his ghost comes to her saying he was murdered and Elatsoe heads on a mission to find out what really happened, along with her dog and other best friend, sort of Scooby-Doo style. Again, the material can get dark, but the tone is most often fun mystery-solving hijinks.
It's a smart book that deals with racism, colonization, the history of how indigenous people have been treated in America, and more through both direct conversations about history and metaphors involving marginalized people being used for the gain of those in power. I really enjoyed my time with it, loved the characters, and thought the writing was lovely. The ending didn't totally work come together for me, things felt a little rushed and underexplained. But overall, a very positive experience and an author I will be reading from again in the future.
I enjoyed the initial idea for the plot, and I really liked the Lipan Apache stories included in the book, but overall I think this was quite badly written. I found the dialogue cringeworthy at times; Ellie and Jay have supposedly been friends since they were young, but this is not reflected in their dialogue at all. They seem to know so little about each other. In addition, they're supposedly 17 years old, but they read more like 12 year olds. I also had some issues with the worldbuilding; nothing was really explained, which made it hard to go along with it. It all felt very jumbled.
What I did really love were the illustrations by Rovina Cai. Each chapter starts with an illustration, and these tell a story of their own. It ends up tying in with the actual plot, which I appreciated.
I’ve been very interested in this book since I heard that it features an asexual protagonist and Native American legends, but I won’t lie: a major part of my decision to get it sooner than later was the fact that it’s illustrated. I have a weakness for pretty books and the hardcover is nicer and better quality than most special editions.
And of course, it’s also well worth a read – even if it was admittedly a poor fit for me at the time.
Ellie (or Elatsoe) is Lipan Apache and has the power to summon animal ghosts, passed through the generations from her six-great-grandmother. When her cousin dies under mysterious circumstances, she knows he was murdered and sets out to find who did it and bring the murderer to justice, along with her himbo best friend Jay and her ghost dog Kirby.
The setting is an alternate America where magic is real, in the vein of most urban fantasy. There are vampires, various kinds of shapeshifters, fae, vengeful ghosts, people with all sorts of powers. But at the same time, Ellie still has to deal with racism and the usual sorts of asshattery. (I was, at one point early on, wondering how come Native Americans are still oppressed even though they have powers, but it is explained and it does make sense.)
One thing I enjoyed was seeing a protagonist whose parents are not only alive, but also supportive. I feel like we barely ever see one in fantasy, much less the other. It’s in general a very soft, compassionate kind of book, the type that would make an excellent comfort read. The asexuality rep was very well done and doesn’t fall into any of common pitfalls like making the character a literal robot or cold and emotionless and friendless. And it has a lot to say about the power of stories, about friendship, about grief, justice.
But in the end, it just didn’t click. Mostly because of how young it feels – I’d put it towards the younger end of YA bordering on middle grade. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, to be clear, but I generally prefer adult or sometimes the older end of YA. It read fast, but I can’t deny I was not in the mood, and it felt more than a little lacking in conflict.
However, if this is not a dealbreaker for you and you find the concept interesting, I’d still recommend it.
Enjoyment: 3/5 Execution:4/5
Recommended to: anyone looking for an easy, uplifting read, those who want more books with a casually asexual protagonist, people in need of a comfort read, fans of ghost books, those looking for a book they can read with their children, dog people, pretty book collectors Not recommended to: those who prefer more conflict or books aimed at an older audience
I was looking for more books by indigenous authors, and the lovely Carmen recommended this one to me! Full of friendship, family legacies and dark secrets, Elatsoe was an intriguing blend of fantasy and murder mystery and an all-around fun ride?
Elatsoe (nickname Ellie) is a teenager living in a version of the United States, not completely unlike our own. The most obvious difference is that there are fantasy and supernatural elements intertwined with a modern day setting, and Ellie’s heritage as Lipan Apache has given her special abilities. After the death of a family member, she finds herself in the town of Willowbee running down leads and chasing ghosts. But not everything in Willowbee is what it seems, and it quickly becomes clear that Elatsoe has gotten into a much more complicated and dangerous situation than anyone could have predicted.
The setting is one of the most interesting parts of the book. I thought it was cool how in this America people weren’t hiding the fact that there was magic built into the country. So often in fantasy set in a modern world, a lot of the conflict comes from trying to hide abilities and effects of creatures on the loose or spells gone wrong, and it was nice to just skip over that and right into the plot of the story. Similarly, both of Elatsoe’s parents are not only alive (thank god the author skipped the dead parents trope) but present throughout her entire journey. They are communicating with her and trust her judgement in a way that was so normal that it actually caught me off guard in a YA novel. I’ve seen several reviews point this out, but I just wanted to mention it as well.
I would say this probably falls on the younger side of YA, even though the characters are in their late teens. Just based off the way they speak and carry themselves, I would have guessed Ellie and Jay were a few years younger than they ended up being. That said, there’s some supernatural violence and a lot of discussion of death and grief, so I wouldn’t say the book sanitized for a younger audience.
In all, I liked it. I would definitely pick up more from Darcie Little Badger and am excited to see what she comes out with next. And for anyone interested, I was able to listen to Elatsoe with no wait on Hoopla, and I believe the ebook is available there as well!
Thanks to both Darcie Little Badger and Levine Querido for providing me with an ARC of this book.
"Don't rush stories. That's sacrilegious."
ELATSOE is one of my most anticipated releases of 2020, and it did not disappoint. Every chapter draws you deeper into this world where humans walk side by side with the beings from lore. This book strikes the perfect balance of humor, action, loss, and nerdiness that I was expecting from it.
I think what I appreciated the most about ELATSOE is that while Ellie is definitely the hero of the story, she isn't alone and never acts like she is. Her friends, family, and the best damn ghost dog in the world rally around her as she tries to bring her cousin's murderer to justice. It's refreshing to read about in a genre that often falls into the "I have to do this alone" trope.
I also really enjoyed the way that Ellie's family history, particularly that of her six-great grandmother, is so integrated into the story. As a Native reviewer myself, my history is something that's very important to me, and I was grateful to see that represented.
Big love for Kirby the Ghost Dog, Native vampires, and an unexpected heist scene as well! Make sure you get your hands on this one, folks.
Quite a letdown, sadly. 2 stars feels harsh but when I try to think about things I really *loved* about this book, I come up short.
My biggest issue with the book is that the characters, who are 17 years old, act and speak more like pre-teens. If this book had been written for Middle Grade rather than YA, I think the storytelling and tone would have worked a lot more.
Also the world-building is really random. I'm okay with light fantasy/magic without a root cause, but a lot of this story felt haphazard and convenient to move the plot forward.
The plot was fine and what kept me reading. I love a good murder mystery but this one felt really underdeveloped at the end. What you expect is pretty much exactly what happens.
And lastly, the main character, Ellie, undergoes no sort of character growth throughout the novel. The Ellie we know at the start is exactly the same at the end. It felt like a missed opportunity to add some depth to the story and create more compelling characters to fuel the narrative.
It's a quick read with some interesting elements (I personally liked a lot of the stories about her Sixth-Great Grandmother and how the author tied in indigenous folktales; oh and dogs! Love dogs.) But all in all it was just a bit lacking for me.
Ohhhh this is such a beautiful fantasy novel. "Mythic fiction" is definitely the right word for its subgenre, because the heroine practically swims in myth as she moves through this story. Elatsoe - Ellie - grew up on the stories and legends of her powerful ancestors and the monsters that they fought. Those stories support her every day - but there are plenty of other darker and crueller myths and magic at work in the world around her, too.
Ellie is a bright, confident and nerdy 17-year-old who has inherited the great power to summon ghosts from the underworld - the kind of power that can be terribly misused if held by anyone without morals and compassion. When her own cousin is murdered, Ellie has to test her powers to their most dangerous limits, with the support of her friends and family - and confront a different ancient power that has no interest in justice or compassion.
In the beginning, I wasted a bit of time trying to figure out whether this book was YA or adult. I finally decided - actually, it's both! It's a perfect crossover novel that would work in either direction. The pacing is different from what I'm used to in most contemporary fantasies, full of pauses to spin out the (lovely, immersive) family stories that Ellie grew up on, even in the midst of the most dramatic moments - but those storytelling pauses are so beautifully done and so organic to the book as a whole that I absolutely loved that whole experience. I just sank into this novel completely and felt really happy there.
It's also really funny, for all of its darkness, full of bits that made me smile or laugh, and it is deeply kind. And oh! I actually teared up with happiness at an absolutely perfect moment in its final scene.
I loved this book, I'm so glad I bought it in its paper edition (which is a beautiful physical object in itself and really highlights Rovina Cai's gorgeous illustrations), and I know I'll be re-reading it many times. I can't wait to read whatever Darcie Little Badger writes next!
I AM HAPPY. I needed this comfort read. Animal companions are everything, especially if they are ghost dogs. This is more middle grade than YA but i loved it for the less drama and has a way better plot than a lot of the other YA mystery i have read.
The reason I didn’t rate this higher was simply because it didn’t connect to me personally or elicit that strong feelings out of me so I did not want anyone to think that just because I rated it 3 stars was because I didn’t like it that much. I just feel like I didn’t get much out of it aside from passive comfort.
I also really appreciated the asexual rep and there is less drama between the characters. It felt like i really was accompanyimg this kid around this world where vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and all supernatural beings existed on this mystery hike. What a fun time.
“Maybe, sometimes, wants felt like needs. Because the alternative hurt too bad.”
Hey! Another YA book I liked. One of my favorite themes of the book is that relationship between the Ellie and her parents is NOT one of the tensions. The trust and love goes both ways with lots of understanding and is extremely refreshing. I liked the Lipan Apache bits found here and there and I liked the casualness of the fantasy world.
The audio narrator didn't add much so I would recommend reading the actual book. I hear the illustrations are excellent. I actually might read another one if it turns into a series.
There were many reasons I added Elatsoe to my to-read list when it started making the rounds on Twitter: supernatural mystery, asexual protagonist (which I forgot until I started reading it), Indigenous author and protagonist, etc. It’s great when a novel has so many draws, isn’t just a single thing. Darcie Little Badger’s debut is one part ghost story, one part educational piece about stolen land and colonial ambitions—and all about a main character who embodies “spunky.”
This eponymous protagonist goes by the name of Ellie for most of the book. In this alternative United States, magic exists in a variety of forms. For Ellie’s family, who are Lipan Apache like Little Badger herself, this means passing down traditional knowledge about summoning spirits. Ellie has been practising this skill from childhood, and she has a loyal companion in her ghost dog, Kirby! After her cousin, Trevor, dies near a small and mysterious town in Texas, Ellie receives a visit from him in a dream. Trevor tells her he was murdered and even reveals the murderer—but that’s all. And Ellie is forbidden from waking the spirits of dead humans, lest they return as vengeful ghosts. So as she and her parents visit her cousin’s widow to help out, Ellie launches an investigation, with Kirby and her best friend Jay by her side, against the most prominent and wealthy man in town.
I enjoyed Elatsoe from the beginning, and it just gets better and better. Little Badger’s plotting and pacing is very smooth, and while there are moments of infodumping here and there, overall I like that she doesn’t spend too much time trying to explicate how this universe is different from our own. You just kind of get thrown into it—vampires and fairy rings and ghosts and all—and I appreciate that. There is room to grow if this turns into a series, and if this is a standalone then it strikes the right balance between plot and worldbuilding.
There’s also a healthy balance with Ellie’s characterization. Ellie is a great protagonist in terms of her growth. At 17, she is on the cusp of adulthood and quite independent, yet her dynamic with her parents is a healthy one. She respects their boundaries but pushes them just a little when she believes she is capable of more. Her parents, in return, set those boundaries out of concern for her safety, but they also respect her agency and believe her when she says things like “my cousin’s spirit told me he was murdered.” People are classifying this as young adult, and that’s cool, I guess it technically is from the age of the protagonist, but if anything this is definitely crossover … regardless, more books with healthy relationships between the protagonist and her parents, please!
Similarly, more asexual representation like this! I love, love books that emphasize and explore a character’s asexuality, of course. But I have said and will say again here: we need books where characters are just casually asexual. Ellie hints at this early in the book when she talks about not wanting children and not needing a partner—but of course, that doesn’t equate with asexuality. The word finally gets used on page later, when someone says, “I know you’re asexual,” suggesting Ellie is out to people in general, and that’s lovely! It’s not explained, not interrogated, just accepted. Moreover, it was so important to me that her friendship with Jay was platonic and lacked any hint of romantic/sexual tension or unrequited love. Just two peeps being pals, and I can stan that.
This kind of casual representation extends to Ellie’s identity as Lipan Apache. This identity is asserted more often and firmly than her asexuality, and Little Badger drops in nuggets of education for us settlers about what Indigenous people, and the Lipan Apache in particular, suffered at the hands of settlers. She works ideas of land and belonging into the vampire mythos in a really cool way. And of course, the entire mystery itself is rooted in a group of settlers’ beliefs that they can take what they want, from the land and its people, over and over indefinitely, without ever paying recompense. Overall, Elatsoe grounds itself in Indigenous roots and integrates, on every level, lessons in the harms of colonialism and the extant colonial mentality within American culture and history. It’s sophisticated and powerful.
Ok, ok, Kara—but what about the ghost story??? The mystery?? Does it work?
Short answer: yes. My main fear as the story developed would be that Ellie would turn into a kind of Mary Sue, that her magic or detective skills would make solving, and resolving, the case too easy. Without going into spoilers, I’d say Little Badger averts this through careful foreshadowing, as well as the way she uses stories of Ellie’s ancestor. The connection between Ellie’s power and the land/her ancestors is so important, another example of what I was talking about above when I said that this book is grounded in Indigenous roots—Ellie prevails not just as a result of her own strength but because she knows who she is and where she comes from. Elatsoe is a book about the power of remembering yourself in the face of a world that wants you to forget.
Sometimes you read books because you know what to expect: they are predictable, comfortable reads. Other times you read a book because you are expecting an experiment, something that might or might not work for you. Elatsoe fits comfortably into a third category of book: the type of book that isn’t really an experiment, but it is much more than a comfort read. It stretches you but in a way that does not demand cerebral contortions, educates you in a way that does not make you feel patronized, entertains you in a way that is fairly conventional for a novel yet layered and nuanced as well. If you like any of the things I listed at the top of this review, check it out.
Originally posted on Kara.Reviews, where you can easily browse all my reviews and subscribe to my newsletter.
I liked the book and loved the ending. It’s a solid story with only a few hiccups, but she really sticks the landing. That’s especially impressive for a debut novel.
If I were to sum this up, I’d call it “supernatural Native American Nancy Drew who can talk to ghosts”. I love Kirby the ghost dog, shades (heh) of Zero from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I’m honestly surprised more authors haven’t gone that route given the movie’s iconic status. Little Badger weaves Kirby and other ghosts effortlessly into the story by invoking Lipan Apache beliefs.
I wasn’t familiar with the Lipan branch of Apache before reading this book, and I’m always up for learning more. Turns out Lipan mythology differs somewhat from other Apache tribes and, from the things I’ve read this week, Little Badger has both played it straight and used parts of it as allegory by slotting her two main characters of Ellie and Jay into the roles of Killer-of-Enemies and Child-of-Water.
Ghosts aren’t the only supernatural critters running around the book. There are also vampires and fairies. Setting all these types in our modern world isn’t uncommon, with series like Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood), the Iron Druid, and Mercy Thompson utilizing the whole variety of fantasy staples to tell stories, but this is the first time I’ve seen it done with Native American flavor.
If she tells more stories in this world, I’m down for them.
Edit: I debated whether to include this next bit because it’s a MAJOR spoiler, but it is such a Crowning Moment of Awesome that I really want to. Don’t read this until after you’ve read the book, because it’s so great and you need to experience it cold.
Talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before
Darcie Little Badger expertly crafts a story about Ellie, her Lipan Apache heritage, and her discovering the secrets of Willowbee while seeking the truth about her cousin’s death. Ellie was an amazing character, and I enjoyed seeing her interactions with her family and best friend.
This book has been on my tbr for such a long time. It was always book I wanted to pick up but never managed to get my hands on a copy. I am so glad I finally got a copy for my birthday this year. Once I started reading, I was immediately pulled into the story.
The writing in this book is whimsical and beautiful. The author has a strong voice and narrative structure. The pacing throughout was also spot on. I enjoyed seeing how different stories were intertwined as well. Everything built on each other to bring the world of Elatsoe to life. The illustrations were also a fun addition.
Even after just this one book, I can confidently say I will read anything Darcie Little Badger writes.
The writing was so whimsical and beautiful, and I am a sucker for a good story within a story. The pacing of this felt very slice of life, so if you're into that, I think you'd really like this one! For me, I would've liked a bit more character development, especially in the relationships between the characters, but otherwise I thought this was a very enjoyable read!
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.
The Story 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.