aneghneghqelleq | inspire

Reads and Reviews

An Alaska Native reader reviews Native-written books

By Erin Tripp (Lingít)

The Break

The Break and The Strangers

by Katherena Vermette

If I made a five-star predictions list, The Break would have certainly been on it. It is now one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read. The Break is told from multiple perspectives, mainly within one family, that give you many different viewpoints of a traumatic event that acts as a turning point in the characters’ lives. The more I read books like this, the more I realize I love books with chapters from numerous perspectives that all tie together in some way. Especially when you aren’t sure how they’ll come together. It makes me feel connected to more of the characters by putting me in their heads and giving them depth. It’s a really engaging storytelling method for me and I need more!

As far as The Break goes, the story was heartbreaking, infuriating, and hard to read at times. The book addresses intergenerational trauma and the cycle of violence it has created. It also brought up questions of identity and how connected or disconnected we are from our peoples. This was particularly evident in the Métis officer, who struggled with claiming his identity and dealing with racist comments about Native people casually said to him because he is part white and people assume he’s “one of the good ones.” There’s also an interesting parallel drawn between the family’s life in the city and the life they left behind in their more rural community. For me, the smaller community symbolized a reconnection to traditions and community, whereas the city reflects the colonization of their people.

The Strangers is a follow-up to The Break. Where The Break is the event, The Strangers is the fall-out from that event. The main family from the first book isn’t present in this story, and instead we follow a different family from the other side of the events. What’s notably different about the story is that while The Break had a looming character near their home and examined how external events cause them trauma, The Strangers is an intense portrayal of intergenerational trauma and the internal choices of a family. Other important themes that were well-handled were disconnection from culture and identity, the foster care system, and parental neglect.

Katherena is an incredibly gifted writer, and I hope she continues to write this world from new perspectives. I can see all the branching directions this could take and I’m excited to see what she does. It reminds me of Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine series. Both authors are unique and brilliant in their own ways, and I like the way they use this storytelling device.

A Snake Falls to Earth

A Snake Falls to Earth

by Darcie Little Badger

I adored Darcie Little Badger’s (Lipan Apache) debut novel Elatsoe last year, so when I heard she had a new novel coming out I was understandably excited. Darcie has a great ability to create a world with light, fantastical elements still grounded in reality. And now that I’ve read A Snake Falls to Earth, I can confidently say I love this book too! I felt like I’d stepped into an Indigenous story from long, long ago. It brings together the contemporary world with traditional stories in such a way that brings Indigenous peoples, stories, and beliefs into the present. I was left thinking about climate change, language loss, and how separated we’ve become from the natural world. This is especially highlighted with the disconnect that has formed between us on Earth and the beings of the sky world.

The story was told in dual perspectives and I adored both of the main characters. Oli doesn’t like to step outside of his comfort zone and maintains a routine, but is reluctantly brave when he needs to be. Nina loves her family, has a strong belief in the animal people, and is a storyteller in her own way. Through the use of ‘St0ryte11er’ (a video platform in this near future world,) Nina will record stories about her family, herself, and her people. It makes me think of the way our stories have been shared traditionally versus the use of technology and traditions now. There is still a lot of possibility with the medium that hasn’t been tapped yet.

I’m hoping for a sequel, because I want to know more about the hunters in the book and how they might take them down. Something about them evokes colonization and the removal of Native power. And by the end of the novel, I still found them to be a mysterious organization that I have questions about. Overall, a wonderful book!

The Sentence

The Sentence

by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) is a favorite author of mine, so it seemed appropriate to welcome a new year of reading with her new work The Sentence. This book is set in Birchbark Books in Minnesota, which is a very real bookstore owned by Louise (but the story itself is fictional). She even inserted herself as a character in the story that the main character will interact with — very cute meta vibes! The main character works at the bookstore and for much of the book is haunted by the ghost of a customer who recently died. The customer is a white woman who frequented the store and regularly inserted herself into Indigenous spaces, falsely claiming Indigenous Ancestors. I found that aspect really interesting, and I’m not sure if I can articulate all my feelings surrounding it, and the real life inspiration behind it. But it has given me a lot to think about, because as Native people many of us have experiences with people like that.

The parts of the book that I found hard to read dealt with the start of the pandemic, which was followed by the murder of George Floyd and the protests in the weeks following. I’m not sure yet if I’m at a point where I can consume stories that involve the pandemic and very recent traumatic history, so I had mixed feelings about this book being set only a couple of years ago. It was much too easy to get drawn in and feel exactly how I felt in those days. It caused me to reflect on how much we’ve adapted to since then. It was an interesting reflection, but proceed with caution if that’s something that would be difficult for you.

I found The Sentence to be a well-written and interesting novel I’m glad I read. While the book is not one of my personal Louise Erdrich favorites, I do recommend it. Especially if you are a fan of her work or are looking for a moment of reflection in the pandemic.

Erin Tripp is a Lingít stage and voice actor who earned her a bachelors degree in Theatre and Lingít Language from the University of Alaska Southeast. You can follow Erin on Instagram @erins_library or her YouTube channel, “Erin’s Library.”