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.
Elatsoe is a magical realism YA novel where the world we are used to exits in tandem with many other creatures such as vampires and werewolves. The world of Elatsoe reminds me of the world in the Spiderwick chronicles (the book, obvi, not the deplorable movie). Elatsoe, who goes by Ellie, is a bright young woman whose cousin has just been murdered. Everyone is calling it an accident, a car wreck, but Ellie knows better. She has dreams about the dead, and her cousin visits her while she’s asleep shortly after he dies. Ellie, with the help of her ghost dog Kirby, as well as her wonderfully present and supportive parents and her hometown friends, begins to unravel the mystery of her cousin’s death. But communing with the dead is a serious feat, and if done wrong, things can quickly get out of hand. Is Ellie strong enough to handle the darkness around her family’s history?
I adored this book from start to finish. The opening chapter does drop you in the middle of the story, and it took a few pages for me to get my footing, but after the third chapter, I was hooked. Ellie’s parents are present from the start of the novel, which is an outlier in many YA novels, so it was so much fun to have Ellie not only actively communicating with her parents but to have her parents be a part of the investigation and look out for her as the trail of leads becomes more and more dangerous.
Each and every character in Elatsoe is fully-fledged and loveable. Ellie’s friend Jay is a remarkable character, and I loved their friendship. The presence of supernatural forces and creatures in the novel didn’t detract from the story. The lore was built on Little Badger’s Lipan Apache heritage, and so all the magical elements are explained and rationalized throughout the book, which makes it that much more enjoyable. I’m the type of reader who likes to have an explanation for everything, so hearing the ancestral explanations on the history of certain magical creatures was such a delight.
Elatsoe is a YA book, but it deals with a lot of adult violence and trauma. It’s one of those books that toes the line between YA and contemporary fiction, so be mindful of that facet of the book when you consider reading or recommending it to others. The language is very accessible, and otherwise the novel is fantastic. This book is one of my top reads of the year for sure, and I plan to recommend it to many friends!
PUBLICATION DEETS: Levine Querido, August 25, 2020, 362 pages
CATEGORIES: magical realism, YA