Brandon Hobson’s “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is a powerful and moving book that follows 15-year-old Sequoyah as he moves in with Harold and Agnes Troutt, a middle-aged couple who already have 13-year-old George and 17-year-old Rosemary. Sequoyah and Rosemary connect because they both have Native American roots. Sequoyah is Cherokee and Rosemary is Kiowa. From his foster siblings, Sequoyah also learns about Harold’s illegal sports bookie business. Sequoyah and his foster siblings both want to get into trouble, but Harold’s hidden sacks of rolled hundred-dollar bills, hidden in a backyard shed, entice them all. Hobson, a member of the Cherokee Nation Tribe, picks 10 books about Native Americans that you should read.
I haven’t put the 10 books I think are the best Native American novels in any specific order. I’ve chosen 10 books that I love, but there are many more that I think are important, and many of them are written by the people on this list. These writers are important to me as a reader, a writer, and as a Cherokee. I should also say that there are many short story collections, books of poetry, and memoirs that are part of a fight to keep the traditions and values of Native American culture alive. Momaday and Erdrich are well-known authors, but there are also newer, younger Native American writers who are making great works of art right now. People like Layli Long Soldier, Terese Mailhot, and Tommy Orange are making their names and their work a powerful and constructive force in Native American literature.
House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
“House Made of Dawn” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969, which shows you that it’s a great book. It’s about a World War II veteran named Abel who comes home and tries to adapt to living in the world he used to live in, but he gets drunk a lot, fights, and then kills someone. He ends up in jail for a while. It doesn’t stop when he gets out of jail. As Abel learns to embrace his Native American heritage, this is a book of hope, even though all of that sounds dark at first. Sad and beautiful, this is a must-read.
Pushing the Bear by Diane Glancy
Old Cherokee stories say that a bear is a symbol of greed and satisfaction, so the book’s title is about the Cherokee people who were forced to leave their land and go on the Trail of Tears. During the Trail of Tears, my great-great-great grandmother walked and survived. Maritole, the narrator, is a voice for all the women as they are forced to leave their homes. I was drawn to her, too. Maritole is the main narrator, but there are other voices in the book, too. Maritole’s husband, for example, feels helpless; her father, who somehow manages to hold on to hope; and other voices add to the sense of helplessness and desperation. A very good book about one of the saddest and cruelest times in U.S. history.
Shell Shaker by LeAnne Howe
Shell Shaker, by LeAnne Howe, is a book about powerful Native American women. It tells the story of two Choctaw chiefs who were killed, as well as decolonization and corruption, in two different time periods. He was killed by his own tribe. In the present day, a Choctaw woman is accused of killing the second chief, Red Shoes, and she is called Auda Billy. What makes this book so important is how the two murders are linked and how the spirit, Shell Shaker, plays a role. When you read this book, you can see that Howe is a great stylist.
Tracks by Louise Erdrich
First, Erdrich wrote Love Medicine and Beet Queen, which are both about family stories. The third book in the series is called Tracks. Tracks, on the other hand, is my favorite because of the language and the vivid images it has. It’s told by Nanapush and Pauline, two different people who tell the story at the same time. Erdrich weaves their stories together into a powerful story. In Nanapush’s parts, he talks to his granddaughter, Lulu, and tries to get her back together with her mother, who sent her to government school when she was young. This is the second narrator, Pauline. She tells about how Pauline was jealous of Lulu’s mother, which led to witchcraft and madness. Beautiful and eerie at the same time.
Sundown by John Joseph Mathews
I can almost walk into Osage County from my house, which is scary to think about when I think about the things that happen in Mathews’s haunting book. As a mixed-blood Osage, Challenge (Chal) has a hard time finding his place in both the Osage tribe and the white world. What’s most interesting about this book is how the Osage were influenced and controlled by money and oil after the discovery of oil on their land. There is still a lot of oil in Oklahoma today, which is why there is so much of it. With all the attention that Killers of the Flower Moon has been getting recently, Mathews’s historical novel should be very interesting to people who read it.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
In any Native American Literature class, you’re likely to read Silko’s Ceremony, a novel that deals with a World War II veteran of Laguna Pueblo descent named Tayo. Silko’s novel is known for its many different timelines, which deal with Tayo and his family. There are three evil spirits who try to kill Tayo, even though we see parts of his childhood and adult life in war. It’s a mix of the real world and the spiritual world. There are medicine men, spirits, and all kinds of weird witchery in this world. Ceremony is a book about family, war, mental health, and most important of all, how to get better.
Power by Linda Hogan
This is a story about Omishito, a teenager from the Taiga tribe. She is torn between living in the harsh modern world and the spiritual world of her aunt, Ama, who killed an endangered panther that the tribe considers sacred. What comes next is a trial between her aunt and the tribe. Isn’t it obvious that this book has been written with great care, in a young and powerful voice? Hogan is a poet, after all.
The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong by Stephen Graham Jones
A wild, hallucinatory book called The Fast Red Road: A Plainsong should be on this list. It’s about a man named Pidgin del gato who returns to New Mexico to bury his father, only to find that someone has stolen his father’s body. Birdfinger, Patience Patience, and Psychic Sally are just a few of the names of people who have weird names, but there are many more. As Pidgin and his friend search for his father’s body, they come across a lot of strange and dangerous situations, as well as a lot of weird people, like the remnants of a radical tribe called the Goliards, which his father was a member of. That’s because it is.
Winter in the Blood by James Welch
There is no name for the young, unnamed person who tells us this. “I was far away from myself like a hawk from the moon.” It’s heartbreaking to read Welch’s book about a young man who has a hard time dealing with loneliness, alienation, and identity as he tries to figure out how death and the world around him work. Welch’s short book is quiet but powerful in its urgency and pace. I haven’t seen the movie, but the book is gritty, dark, and must-read.
The Sharpest Sight by Louis Owens
Louis Owens took his own life in 2002, but he left behind some great books, like The Sharpest Sight, which is about a Vietnam veteran who kills his girlfriend and is sent to a mental hospital. He later dies, and his body is found in a river after he dies. While the mystery is being solved, the book takes on a magical-realist tone, with ghosts, nature, and spirits living in the world. A heartbreaking and gut-wrenching book.