Read Harder

Read Harder 2023 Task #17: Read a YA book by an Indigenous author.

The past couple of years have been great years for Native and Indigenous representation in YA. A novel about an Ojibwa teen won YA’s highest honor in 2022, and a YA speculative novel about a Lipan Apache teen was a National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book in 2021 and 2022. But despite these amazing awards, YA still has a ways to come in terms of Native representation. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, fewer than 2% of all kidlit and YA published in 2021 was written by Native or Indigenous creators. And when you go searching for these books, it can be difficult to find more than a handful being published in any calendar year. So while we love to see that award hype, we also need to see an increase in actual books published, too,

Luckily, there are people like Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee Creek Nation), who does a lot to uplift Native voices in kidlit and she’s at the helm of a new imprint at HarperCollins called Heartdrum whose mission is to “emphasize the present and future of Indian Country and the strength of young Indigenous heroes.” Heartdrum published its first YA book in 2022, and hopefully it won’t be the last. By incorporating these YA reads into your TBR (beyond Native American Heritage Month in November!) you are showing publishing that these books matter, and that there is a demand for them. We hope that you don’t stop at just one to satisfy the Read Harder challenge, but add a few of these books to your 2023 reading list!

cover image of Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Daunis lives in two worlds: The world of her white mom, and the nearby reservation community where her father’s family resides. When she delays going off to college to help out with her sick grandmother, she finds her world rocked by a shocking murder and an investigation into drug use on the reservation — an investigation that she gets pulled into, despite her misgivings. As she peels back the layers of complicated truth about her community, she finds that not everything is as it seems. Bonus: Keep an eye out for Boulley’s next book, Warrior Girl Unearthed, out in May!

The Things She's Seen cover image

The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Beth died in a car accident not too long ago, but she lingers in this world, haunting her dad, who is the only other person able to see her. When she encourages him to go back to work, they find themselves in a small Australian town, trying to solve the mystery of a building destroyed by arson and a young woman who’s recently appeared with no name and no past, but a haunting story of her own to tell. Bonus: If you enjoy this book, check out Ambelin’s book The Interrogating of Ashala Wolf!

Hearts Unbroken cover image

Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Louise has been through too many crushes and boyfriends who have said or done racist things, so starting this school year she’s determined to forego boys and focus on her job at the school newspaper. But when a new guy intrigues her and the town faces racist backlash over the casting of the school play, Louise learns that there’s no guarantees when it comes to guarding your heart. Bonus: Leitich also has a new YA novel out in 2023 called Harvest House, and it’s set in the same world as Hearts Unbroken!

the summer of bitter and sweet book cover

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson

Lou is working at her family’s ice cream shack this summer, trying to avoid her ex-boyfriend and the letter that recently arrived for her from her biological father, who is in prison. When her former best friend King also makes a surprise reappearance, Lou finds herself drawn to him. But she can’t ignore all of the things she’s been avoiding forever.

cover of the marrow thieves

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

In a dystopian future where most of the population have lost the ability to dream, Native people are being hunted for their bone marrow, which restores the ability. Frenchie and his friends are making their way north, where they hope to find safety, but one of them holds the secret for ending their days on the run once and for all. Also look for the sequel, Hunting the Stars!

Give Me Some Truth cover

Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth

Carson and Maggi both have their own reasons for wanting to get away from their reservation, but both also realize that their best bet is to win the Battle of the Bands. Despite lots of family circumstance and a racist restaurant owner, they’re determined to give it their best shot…and find unexpected love and friendship along the way. Gansworth is also the author of If I Ever Get Out of Here and Apple (Skin to the Core).

Elatsoe Book Cover

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Elatsoe can raise the spirits of dead animals in an alternate U.S. shaped by magic. When her cousin dies in a car accident, his ghost informs her that it was actually murder, sending Ellie on a harrowing journey to uncover the truth about his death, and shine a light on the secrets of her town. Little Badger is also the author of the award-winning A Snake Falls to the Earth!

Cover of Walking in Two Worlds by Wab Kinew

Walking in Two Worlds by Wab Kinew

Bugz is shy, self-conscious, and feels out of place in her reservation community. But online, she’s a confident gamer who is skilled and respected. When a fellow gamer moves to the reservation, a Chinese teen sent to Canada to live with his aunt, the Rez doctor, the two meet IRL and are drawn to each other. But living online and navigating real-life conflict isn’t so easy, and when Bugz is faced with a huge betrayal, she has to figure out where she stands.

Want more great recommendations? Check out our round up of MG and YA graphic novels by Indigenous creators!

Click here for the full Read Harder 2023 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.