I love good YA. Plain and simple. And not only is Strangers an absolutely gripping read, it represents Indigenous perspectives that make my librarian heart go pitter-patter. The expert blend of intrigue, mythology, and fantasy created a seamless and exciting reading experience – my only complaint is that I am going to have to wait so long for the next two books of the trilogy!
Author: David A. Robertson
Publisher: Portage & Main Press; HighWater Press
Expected Publication Date: March 15, 2018
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, YA Fiction, Mystery, Fantasy
Themes: Self Discovery, Romance, Murder Mystery, Community, Family, Grief
My Rating: 4/ 5
When Cole Harper is compelled to return to Wounded Sky First Nation, he finds his community in chaos: a series of shocking murders, a mysterious illness ravaging the residents, and reemerging questions about Cole’s role in the tragedy that drove him away 10 years ago. With the aid of an unhelpful spirit, a disfigured ghost, and his two oldest friends, Cole tries to figure out his purpose, and unravel the mysteries he left behind a decade ago. Will he find the answers in time to save his community?
Strangers is the first novel in The Reckoner series by David Alexander Robertson, award–winning writer, and author of HighWater Press’ acclaimed children’s book When We Were Alone.
Where do I begin with this book? It is absolutely amazing! And although it is strongly rooted in the Cree culture, it is the type of book that can be enjoyed by adventure loving teens and adults regardless of their knowledge of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. The murders, the mysteries, and Cole’s personal development are enough to keep the pages turning.
As a main character, I really enjoyed Cole. I like that he isn’t perfect, that he gets moody, and that we get to see those moments of vulnerability when he doubts himself or feels that judgement of his peers or community. I couldn’t help but chuckle at how head strong he could be, in the way that teens can, but also how he knows when to walk away from heated situations. It is refreshing to see heroes forgo fights that don’t need to happen, and I think that it is a message that should be modelled more often, especially for young men. His journey is both deeply personal as he comes to grips with his anxiety and murder of his friends, and communal as Wounded Sky finally starts to process the tragedy at the school.
And Jayne, how can you not love little Jayne? Who shines a little brighter when she is lit from within by Joy, dances when she knows no one is watching, and is always game to play games and perform ‘magic’ tricks. She reminds us of the innocence of youth and the adaptability of children. I love too, how she was metaphorically split, embodying the dichotomy of how she was in life as opposed to how the community remembers her death. Her hope and happiness serves as the perfect balance to Cole’s seriousness and self-doubt, while Choch gets to take on the role of comic relief in a book that would other wise read as a melodrama.
I can’t tell you how much I loved Choch – his constant interruptions, the way in which he guides both Cole and the reader throughout the story, his quirks and terrible fashion taste, and (most infuriatingly) the way in which his interruptions overshadow key conversations that are sure to play a role later in the trilogy. But more than anything, I loved the reactions that Cole and Ashley have when encountering a talking Coyote, and the fact that the awkwardness of these encounters never really goes away. Although Choch can come off as a nuisance and a trickster, it is clear that he truly is there to help even if the people that he is helping doesn’t know it yet.
Robertson’s role as educator on, and member of, the Cree Nation really shines through in his writing. It is refreshing to encounter a work devoid of stereotypes and stigma, and where the religious and cultural practices portrayed throughout are treated with a beauty and respect only someone who truly values them can. We need more books like this. Period. Teachers and librarians take note, you need to add this book to your collections (and it would make a waaaay more interesting novel study than Lord of The Flies).
I did struggle a little, with the long-held hatred that many of the adult characters had towards Cole. While I know that small communities can hold on to things forever this was the only part of the book that seemed a little over done. But, then I sat back and reminded myself that I was reading a work of YA fantasy, and who makes the best antagonist in a teen coming of age story? An adult! No, wait… and entire town of grow-ass adults! So, it’s literally teen against the world. This is something that some older readers might pick up on, but if you go into this book with the intended audience in mind, it shouldn’t be too difficult to overcome.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely yes! I have already recommended it to all of my middle and high school colleagues for purchase after it’s release in the new year. Not only do library collections need new, engaging, diverse YA literature, but we also need works that represent Indigenous peoples from Indigenous perspectives. Strangers does this beautifully AND it has the kind of action that will attract readers without them really knowing they’re engaging with diverse lit. This baby is a must read, and I am so angry that I have sit quietly and wait for the remaining to books in the series to be written.
Many thanks to David A. Robertson, HighWater Press, and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.