young adult fiction

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“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo: A Review

“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo: A Review

by Savannah Winkler, Library Assistant

Cover of "Last Night At The Telegraph Club" by Melinda Lo. Glowing yellow words against a painting of the chinatown district of San Francisco At NightIn the opening pages of “Last Night at the Telegraph Club,” 17-year-old Lily Hu’s life is suddenly changed by a newspaper advertisement. The year is 1954, and Lily lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown with her family. The ad promotes a male impersonator named Tommy Andrews and her performances at the local Telegraph Club. Lily quickly hides the ad, and it becomes her secret, but it isn’t her only one. On trips to the pharmacy, she flips through pages of pulp romance novels, particularly one about two women. As she begins to understand her sexuality, Lily becomes even more determined to hide her growing feelings—that is, until fellow classmate Kath Miller discovers her secret. But instead of the shame and humiliation she was anticipating, Lily realizes Kath may share her feelings.

As their friendship grows, Kath and Lily sneak out and visit the Telegraph Club. They meet women who openly flirt with one another and share kisses in the club’s shadows. They watch Tommy Andrews’s electrifying performance, and Lily is captivated by her. But Tommy isn’t the only person Lily crushes on. Lily’s feelings for Kath grow into love, but outside forces continue to complicate their relationship. McCarthyism and the fear of communism threatens the livelihoods of Chinese-Americans. When her father’s citizenship papers are taken by the FBI, Lily realizes her actions affect not just her, but her entire family. She faces an impossible choice: her family or being true to herself.

Malinda Lo’s book has become one of my favorite historical fiction novels. I will never get to truly experience 1950s San Francisco, but while reading this book, I felt like I stood under the glow of the neon signs and smelled the smoke inside the club. This book provides the opportunity to learn more about LGBTQ+ history, including lesbian clubs and male impersonators (better known today as drag kings). A timeline of real historical events that coincide with the book’s happenings is included throughout the chapters. The amount of historical detail brings the book alive.

I enjoyed the historical setting, but the characters are truly what make the story. The romance between Lily and Kath is tender and honest. Readers easily root for them, and I found myself unable to stop reading because I needed to know if their relationship survived. I often hesitated while turning the pages and became increasingly nervous about the fallout if their relationship was discovered. “Telegraph Club” is a realistic novel, and it does not gloss over the discrimination that gay and lesbian couples faced in the 1950s. Despite this, Lo’s story remains unwaveringly hopeful.

This past March, Lo gave a talk to K-State affiliates and community members over Zoom. During her presentation, she explained her motivation behind writing this story. She wanted to bring people—specifically gay Chinese-Americans—out from the shadows and into the spotlight. These Americans were forced to live in secrecy for so long, and their stories were at risk of being lost forever. Authors like Malinda Lo have thankfully assured that will not happen. Without question, “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” succeeds at giving a voice to those who were once voiceless.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club” is a great read for those who enjoy young adult literature, historical fiction, or romance. The novel has been widely recognized, winning the Stonewall Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Youth Literature, and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Lo has authored numerous other YA books, including the thriller “A Line in the Dark” and the fantasy “Ash.”

June is Pride Month, and the library will have numerous displays highlighting LGTBQ+ voices. If you can’t stop by in person or are looking for more recommendations, check out the booklists featured on our catalog page.

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Fabulous Fantasy

Fabulous Fantasy

by Crystal Hicks, Collections Services Manager

Fantasy books have always felt like home to me. From the first time I read Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” as a kid, the genre welcomed, comforted, and astonished me. How can authors, mere mortals like myself, imagine such rich magical worlds? Decades later, I’m still finding new fantasy titles that delight and inspire me.

TJ Klune’s “The House in the Cerulean Sea” may hold the title of the most charming book I have ever read. In it, a dilapidated case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, Linus, is sent on assignment to a little orphanage to check on the welfare of several magical children. There, Linus steadily falls in love with the children and their caretaker, Arthur, until he realizes he’s found where he belongs. It should be known that one of these children is the Antichrist (called Lucy), but Lucy is more a strong-willed child with demonic powers than a literal, straight-from-the-Bible Antichrist.

Klune’s recommendation led me to Ryka Aoki’s “Light from Uncommon Stars,” which rides the line between contemporary fantasy and science fiction. Aoki focuses on a trio of women: Katrina, a transgender runaway violin virtuoso; Shizuka, who makes Faustian bargains with violin students to save her own soul from damnation; and Lan, a refugee spaceship captain whose family is building a stargate at a local donut shop. Aoki seamlessly weaves together these seemingly-disparate storylines, building a narrative about knowing, loving, and being true to yourself. This book was a transcendental delight.

N.E. Davenport’s “The Blood Trials” also blends fantasy and science fiction, this time adding blood magic to a science fiction setting. Ikenna’s just learned her grandfather, a military leader and hero, was murdered by the Praetorian Guard, the most elite of soldiers; to find those responsible, she must join the Praetorian Guard herself. Applicants must participate in a bloodbath of trials, and Ikenna will need to keep her magic a secret while she fights to survive. Ikenna’s a rough-and-tumble protagonist, and Davenport’s action-packed debut is a bloody good time.

I just started reading “A Marvellous Light” by Freya Marske, but I’m already enjoying its blending of magic and Edwardian England. Robin Blyth expects his new job as Assistant in the Office of Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints to be boring and pointless, only to learn that it actually liaises with a secret magic society. Working with his magician counterpart, Edwin Courcey, the pair investigate the disappearance of Robin’s predecessor and uncover a secret plot, all while fighting their growing mutual attraction. This book contains an abundance of verbal sparring (a must in any good British historical novel) with a unique, well-developed magical system.

The instant I saw Kuri Huang’s cover art for Sue Lynn Tan’s “Daughter of the Moon Goddess,” I knew I’d love the book. Tan’s debut draws inspiration from the Chinese legend of Chang’e, who stole the Celestial Emperor’s elixir of immortality and became the moon goddess. This work focuses on Chang’e’s daughter, Xingyin, who flees the moon to seek a way to free her mother. Tan treads familiar ground (for example, Xingyin must disguise her identity and becomes close with the emperor’s son), but her detailed prose shines, bringing Xingyin’s mythical world to life.

Arthurian legend has always held a special place in my heart, so of course I’m eagerly anticipating “Spear,” Nicola Griffith’s spin on the legend of Percival and the Holy Grail. Peretur was raised in secret by her mother, but she yearns to join the court of Arturus, so she disguises herself as a young man. Soon her untamed magic makes her unwelcome, so she joins her lover Nimüe on her Grail quest. I love retellings and reimaginings of Arthurian legend, and I’m eager to immerse myself in Griffith’s version of this classic narrative.

Holly Black’s a fixture in the children’s and young adult fantasy scene, and this May sees the release of her first adult title, “Book of Night.” Charlie Hall spent years working as a thief for magicians, but now she’s on the straight and narrow, avoiding her old life at all costs—until her old life comes knocking, and Charlie ends up on one last heist. “Gloamists,” the magicians of Charlie’s world, manipulate their own and others’ shadows, which sounds both fascinating and spooky. May can’t come soon enough, since I can’t wait to get my hands on this book.

Whichever genre you prefer, the library has plenty of books to meet your reading needs. Stop by and see what magic awaits!

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Read MHK Young Adult Books by Female Authors

Read MHK Young Adult Books by Female Authors

by Alissa Rehmert, Library Assistant

A wise woman once sang, “Who run the world? Girls! Who run the world? Girls! Who run the world? Girls!” Beyoncé’s words ring truer and truer as time goes on. Since the time Beyoncé released “Run the World (Girls),” the percentage of female authors went from 46% to 50% in a span of just eight years (Zippia “Author Statistics and Facts in the U.S.”). The more that women share their stories with the world, whether fiction or non-fiction, the more society benefits. Now more than ever before, women authors have the opportunity to give new and fresh perspectives, while also highlighting uniquely feminine struggles and urging readers to make changes.

The representation of women authors is particularly important when it comes to young adult literature. Being a teenage girl can be difficult, but having access to the stories of women who have endured similar hardships may help guide young adults through their own struggles. When I was a teen, I, like many young women, found sanctuary in the written word. Women authors like Suzanne Collins, J.K Rowling, and Stephanie Meyer greatly influenced my teen, and even young adult, life. Since I graduated high school, several more women authors have pushed out thousands of novels with just as much power!

One such author is Mindy McGinnis, an award-winning novelist who writes dark, gritty YA fiction perfect for teens eager for introspection and deep contemplation. Her 2016 novel, “The Female of the Species”, is, simply put, the story of Alex, a teenage girl who must find a way to survive high school after mourning the untimely death of her older sister. Of course, that’s how the story seems on the surface, but, like most things in life, there is more to the story than the veneer. Throughout the story, McGinnis highlights the struggles that come from simply being an adolescent girl facing the challenges that come with the modern world. Whether it be cheating boyfriends, mean girls, drug and alcohol use, or striving for vengeance against the man who murdered your sister: McGinnis addresses it all.

Through Alex’s story, McGinnis invites her audience to consider the bigger societal expectations placed upon adolescents, particularly women, as they make the inevitable move from childhood to adulthood. What does it mean to be a woman? How does the human woman fit within the animal kingdom as a whole? How far might a woman go to protect those she loves? These are just a few of the topics McGinnis ponders through her novel. There are many graphic scenes depicted throughout this fast-paced novel, but McGinnis doesn’t exploit these violent situations for mere shock value, rather utilizing them in an effort to highlight societal issues that often mirror real-life stories. Alex is the type of woman who isn’t afraid to stand up for the people she loves, even if it might entail social alienation. I personally wish I would have read a book like this when I was younger and naiver to the dangers of the world around me!

McGinnis’ genius didn’t stop there, though! Just last year, she released a new YA novel titled “The Initial Insult,” which acts as a sort of homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story, “The Cask of Amontillado.” In it, Tress Montor loses her entire family under mysterious circumstances. Montor’s best friend, Felicity Turnado, holds the key to finding out where Montor’s family is, only she can’t remember anything from that night. This suspenseful mystery is sure to pull you in quickly and keep you guessing what might happen next. What’s even more exciting is that this novel has an upcoming sequel called “The Last Laugh” which releases this month, March 15, 2022.

Whether you kick back and listen to Beyoncé or crack open a new YA novel by an up-and-coming female author, make sure to find time this month to celebrate the hard-working, world-running women around you!

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Young Adult Thrillers by Black Authors

Young Adult Thrillers by Black Authors

By: Savannah Winkler, Library Assistant 2

Cover of "Ace of Spades" by Faridah Abike IyimideThere is nothing I love more than a good thriller. Whether it be about ghostly hauntings or mysterious crimes, I can’t get enough of stories that make me double check my doors at night. Growing up, though, I wasn’t familiar with many thrillers for young adults. When I thought of thrillers back then, I thought of books like R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series, and I pictured the ominous illustrations and terrified faces of white teens on almost every cover. While I still enjoy and appreciate classic thrillers like Fear Street, the genre has thankfully become more diverse, and Black authors in particular have finally started to be represented. While there is still much progress to be made, I’d like to highlight a few of these YA thrillers by Black authors that may send a chill up your spine.

Are you a fan of “Gossip Girl?” Or perhaps Jordan Peele’s award-winning horror film, “Get Out?” If so, “Ace of Spades” by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé might be the book for you. Devon Richards is a quiet but talented musician, and headgirl Chiamaka Adebayo has ambitious plans for her future. When they are both are chosen to be Niveus Private Academy’s class prefects, it seems like nothing could ruin their senior year. Then the anonymous text messages start. The texter, who goes by Aces, is determined to ruin Devon and Chiamaka’s lives one text at a time. Soon the whole school knows their most private secrets, and their once-bright futures are suddenly threatened. When the harassing texts start to turn into something deadlier, Devon and Chiamaka must team up to stop Aces once and for all.

High school is hard and being able to see the dead doesn’t make it any easier. In “The Taking of Jake Livingston” by Ryan Douglass, sixteen-year-old Jake has enough complications in his life. He’s one of the few Black students at St. Clair Prep, and the school hallways aren’t exactly inviting. Not just because of the bullies, but the ghosts, too. Jake has been able to see spirits of the dead for most of his life, and normally they’re harmless. That is, until Sawyer, the ghost of a school shooter who took the lives of six students, begins to haunt him. Jake becomes a tool in Sawyer’s plan for revenge, and more atrocities devastate the town. Jake soon realizes he is the only one who can stop Sawyer’s unrelenting vengeance—if he can survive.

In “White Smoke” by Tiffany D. Jackson, Mari Anderson is also haunted by ghosts. Mari struggles with anxiety and substance abuse. Following a stay in rehab, she and her blended family move into a historic house in the Midwestern city known as Cedarville. Mari immediately knows there is something wrong with their new home. Doors open and close on their own, household items disappear, and a horrible smell that only Mari notices moves through the house. Then her stepsister, Piper, suddenly has an imaginary friend that isn’t interested in keeping Mari around. As she begins to learn more about her new city, Mari realizes that her house isn’t the only thing wrong with Cedarville—the local legends about the abandoned houses along their street may be more fact than fiction. But as her anxieties begin to worsen, Mari must do everything she can to hold it together and find out what’s truly haunting their home.

February is Black History Month, and you can find more book recommendations on the library catalog at Also keep an eye out for the library’s monthly ReadMHK podcast for more recommendations and discussion on this month’s topic, Black authors.

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Books For Worldbuilding Inspiration

Books For Worldbuilding Inspiration

by Evren Celik, Library Assistant

Have you ever lent someone your favorite book and been told it was too boring to finish? Do you spend more time in a video game’s character creation screen than you do actually playing it, or have notebooks full of worldbuilding ideas for a novel with no plot?

Welcome to the club! I’d recommend looking into running tabletop roleplaying games, if you haven’t already. If you have, or if you’re just interested in some ideas for building out your next world, here’re some books with interesting characters, mysteries, or narrative styles to inspire you:

One of the first things I think about when building a world is magic. If it exists, where does it come from? How does it work? While I love books full of everyday magic, or secret wizard societies existing unseen among the ordinary world, “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig is one of my favorite examples of a fantastical story that never feels like it leaves reality.  The novel follows depressed, regret-filled Nora Haig, who explores real-life problems through an exaggerated version of what people do all the time – disappearing into a book. The story could be described as magical realism, though it’s on the list because of how the worldbuilding relies on magic to further the plot without ever focusing on it or feeling completely removed from real life. The balance of escapism and themes like mental health is why I’d especially suggest it to anyone who has to continuously resign themselves to not being kidnapped by dragons.

Next there’s Edith Pattou’s middle grade books, “East” and its sequel “West.” The titles allude to the significance of cardinal directions in the books, and the Scandinavian folk tale the series is an adaptation of, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.”  Pattou’s worldbuilding involves taking a seemingly small, specific detail like cardinal directions and using it to create a mystery in a book that isn’t technically a mystery. This can be seen on the first page, where the narrator, titled “Father,” explains, “Ebba Rose was the name of our last-born child. Except that was a lie. Her name should have been Nyamh Rose. But everyone called her Rose rather than Ebba, so the lie didn’t matter. At least, that is what I told myself.”

If you don’t immediately want to know why Rose’s name matters so much, the book’s mystery also involves similar themes to Clare Vanderpool’s “Moon Over Manifest.” Both explore hidden family secrets and local legends, narrated through multiple perspectives using a nonlinear timeline. This can be a fun example of how to reveal a world through characters rather than omniscient narration – the family often recalls the same events across chapters, but each recollection provides a different focus, level of understanding, or version of events than the previous ones.

Another middle grade novel inspired by folktales is “13 Treasures,” the first book in a series by the same name, written by Michelle Harrison. The book follows 13-year-old Tanya, who can see fairies. This sounds like a gift…except that nobody else can see them, and these fairies are more fae folk than Tinkerbelle. In alignment with the legends inspiring the series, Tanya’s faeries do not appreciate little girls trying to tell everyone about them.

Harrison’s work shares themes with “East” like a years-old mystery involving a faraway world, though the mystery is more central in “13 Treasures.” I’ve included it because, along with having intricate worldbuilding based on mythology, the series has unique examples of common story elements, like: what counts as a “disguise;” rules for keeping magic secret; conditions for deterring magic; the definition of self-sacrifice; and, most specifically, the technicalities of how one measures time. The last one especially is an interesting way to think about whether magical beings would be beholden to human rules, which is fun to use when building puzzles.

These are by no means all of the books with inspiring worldbuilding elements. I didn’t even have room to talk about “The Silmarillion” (though neither did Tolkien). Luckily, you can find these books and similar titles through our catalog’s NoveList feature – just go to the bottom of a title to see tags such as “world-building” and “multiple perspectives,” then click on them to see recommendations.

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New YA by Debut Authors

New YA by Debut Authors
By Savannah Winkler, LIS Library Assistant

My life would be very different without young adult books. Starting in seventh grade, the stories I found in the teen area of my hometown public library shaped the remaining years of my childhood. From my cozy spot in the library’s bean bag chairs, I faced danger and made impossible choices with Katniss in “The Hunger Games” and learned about first loves with Hazel and Gus from “The Fault in Our Stars.” YA has changed significantly since then, and, despite being a handful of years into adulthood, I still find myself gravitating towards the new and inventive stories that current YA titles have to offer. Luckily, this year has brought us some fresh and exciting titles by debut authors.

Lauren Blackwood’s debut novel, “Within These Wicked Walls,” adds a fantastically gothic and Ethiopian-inspired twist to the classic story of “Jane Eyre.” Andromeda works as a debtera, a kind of exorcist responsible for cleansing houses of curses or malevolent energy. Faced with uncertainty and poverty, Andromeda does not hesitate when the privileged Magnus Rochester offers her a job. However, once she arrives at Thorne Manor, Andromeda soon realizes something even more sinister is lurking inside this lavish desert castle. Andromeda knows she should run, but her growing feelings for Magnus keep her from leaving while she still has the chance.

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun” by Jonny Garza Villa tells a more light-hearted story, but that doesn’t mean life is easy for protagonist Jules Luna. Jules wants nothing more than to get away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the disapproving looks of those around him—especially his father. Jules plans to lay low and focus on getting into college, but one impulsive post on Twitter changes everything and reveals his secret to the world: he is gay. Jules must suddenly face the rejection and hurt he’s always feared, but he discovers he isn’t alone. Mat, an online crush from Los Angeles, reaches out to Jules when he needs it most. With the help of Mat and friends, Jules learns how live his life authentically and without reservations.

One of my most anticipated additions to the horror genre this year was Courtney Gould’s “The Dead and the Dark.” The lives of the two main characters, Logan and Ashley, could not be more different. Logan has traveled the country and chased ghosts with her dads as they host their popular paranormal TV show, “Paraspectors.” Ashley, on the other hand, has never known a world outside of her safe and predictable home in Snakebite, Oregon. Despite their differences, their lives intertwine when Logan’s dads decide to return to their hometown of Snakebite, but what is meant to be a short trip turns into an extended stay as young people begin to disappear and the town’s hidden secrets are slowly revealed.

On the back cover of “Not Here to Be Liked” by Michelle Quach, the book gives its readers a warning: this book contains an unlikable female character. High school junior Eliza Quan has never been concerned with her likability. She’s too busy turning out articles for her school’s newspaper and preparing for the upcoming election for editor in chief. Eliza assumes she is a shoo-in, until the charismatic but less-qualified Len DiMartile is elected instead. Eliza pours her frustrations into an essay that is meant only for herself, but when that essay is published online, she finds herself at the forefront of a feminist movement she never intended to start.

The library’s ReadMHK program continues this month with the topic new and shiny books. If you enjoy discovering new books or are looking to get some new titles for your “To Read” list, consider checking out our librarian-curated book lists on our website.

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Read Something New & Shiny

Read Something New & Shiny

By Julie Mills, Learning & Information Services Supervisor

Cover of "The Book of Magic" by Alice Hoffman. A faded yellow tinted image of a young white woman with light wavy hair smiling at a book. I don’t know about you, but for me there is nothing like opening up a brand-new book for the first time.  Not just a new book to me, but one that has barely been read before and has that hot of the presses shiny cover and the new book smell. I still prefer print books for this very reason; the tactile experience is part of what keeps me reading paper books. Join me and crack open a new and shiny book published in 2021 and read along with us for the ReadMHK December topic. ReadMHK is a community-wide reading program aimed at building connections through reading and sharing experiences with each other.

First off here are a couple of new books that I have been looking forward to reading. Out in October 2021, “The Book of Magic” is the newest and final book in the Practical Magic series by Alice Hoffman. If you read the book or watched the movie “Practical Magic” you will be excited to know that the author has also written a couple of prequels. “Magic Lessons” is the story of the Owens’ ancestor Maria.  Set in the 1600s, it gives fans the way back story of how Maria survived the Witch Hunts and went on to become the matriarch of the family. Next, we have “The Rules of Magic” which fills in the story of Aunts Franny and Jet, and introduces us to their brother Vincent. If, like me, you have been waiting for the fourth book in this series, it is here! “The Book of Magic” focuses on Sally’s daughters, Kylie and Antonia while also finishing the stories of Sally and Gillian from the very popular “Practical Magic”.

In keeping with the theme of sisters and magic we have “The Missing Sister” published in June 2021. This is the seventh and penultimate book in The Seven Sisters series written by Lucinda Riley. In this story, the author takes us across the globe while the six sisters use magic to locate their long lost seventh sibling. The series will conclude with an eighth and final book, “Atlas: The Story of Pa Salt”, coming out in 2023 that will feature the story of the sister’s father.

Black Water Sister” by Zen Cho is a brand-new book published in May 2021. The title may use the word sister; however, the story focuses more on the supernatural with a spirit named Black Water Sister. The author takes us to Malaysia to follow Jessamyn as she hears the ghostly voice of her dead grandmother who used to be a spirit medium. Gods, idols, and family treachery will keep you on the edge of your seat until you read the last line of this book.  Bravely, after all she has been through, Jess can finally come out to her traditional parents.  The author leaves us there but knowing that all will be well.

Gold Diggers: A Novel” is the debut novel by author Sanjena Sathian. It is another new book and has a gorgeous cover if you judge a book by its cover! It came out in April 2021, and tells the coming of age story of Neil and Anita. Both of whom are first generation Americans growing up in an Atlanta suburb with a large Indian family. The second half of the book takes place ten years down the road and we see Neil embrace his heritage. Studying history, he learns we must all embrace where we came from and that all of our stories matter.  If not, those in positions of power may erase who we really are.

Stop by Manhattan Public Library’s new book display, grab something that catches your eye and join us for next month’s ReadMHK book discussion night Tuesday, December 21st, at 7pm. If you need some more suggestions, head over to the Reference desk on the second floor where we have book lists available to help you find your fresh new read.

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“Elatsoe” by Darcie Little Badger:  A Review

“Elatsoe” by Darcie Little Badger:  A Review

by Rashael Apuya, Teen Services Librarian

November is Native American Heritage Month, a month dedicated to the history and current culture of the Indigenous peoples of this country. A great way to learn more about Indigenous cultures is to read books by and about Indigenous peoples. If you are participating in the Manhattan Public Library’s ReadMHK reading program, you can read a book by a Native American author and log it for this month’s theme of “Native Authors.” Looking for a young adult option to fulfill the prompt? I encourage you to check out “Elatsoe” by Darcie Little Badger, who is an enrolled member of the Lipan Apache tribe of Texas.

I picked up “Elatsoe” solely because of the book’s cover, which was illustrated by Rovina Cai. It depicts a girl in a hooded jacket surrounded by running white dogs in a painted style. Once I found out the book was about a teenage girl with a pet ghost dog who goes on a journey to investigate the mysterious death of her cousin – I was all in.

The book follows a seventeen-year-old girl named Elatsoe, or Ellie, who is Native American and grounded firmly in her Lipan Apache tradition and culture. Ellie lives in an altered version of modern-day America. There are the usual things like high school, best friends, and over-protective parents; however, there is also magic and monsters that are shaped by the legends of its peoples – Indigenous and otherwise. For instance, Ellie has the gift of “ghost-calling,” allowing her to raise the ghosts of dead animals, thanks to a skill passed through generations of her family. In the book, Elatsoe’s namesake, Six-Great-Grandmother, is legendary for her ghost-calling gift. Woven into the main plot are tales of Six-Great summoning and training the ghosts of ancient animals to serve as guardians for her people.

The inciting incident of the story is when Ellie is informed that her beloved cousin Trevor has died in a mysterious accident, leaving behind his wife and infant son. When Trevor visits her in a dream and tells Ellie he’s been murdered, she knows she needs to figure out what happened so his spirit and family can be at peace. With the help of her family, best friend Jay, and ghost dog Kirby, Ellie uncovers secrets surrounding Trevor’s death. She and Jay are led to the small, mysterious town of Willowbee, Texas, where the population is overwhelmingly white, lawns are surprisingly lush in the scorching Texas sun, and inhabitants experience a lack of injury and illness.

With expert storytelling and worldbuilding, Little Badger blends modern-day America with Lipan Apache lore that plants the reader solidly in the world. The story confronts the grief of losing a family member and the human desire for truth and vengeance. Even as an avid fan of crime shows and novels, I was genuinely surprised by the sinister motives unearthed, and the twists and turns Little Badger takes the reader through.

If you read young adult novels, you know that even YA fantasy books tend to have romance at their centers. It was refreshing to see that Ellie and Jay’s friendship remains a platonic boy/girl relationship. It is even explained in the book that Ellie is asexual, which is an identity not often represented. That doesn’t mean the book lacked any love, though. Ellie’s strong connection with her family members, and deep trust of her best friend are palpable throughout the book.

I highly recommend “Elatsoe” to anyone who enjoys legends, mystery, fantasy, and reading about close familial relationships. If you need more convincing, “Elatsoe” was named on TIME’s list of 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time. Be on the lookout for Darcy Little Badger’s next book coming out this month called “A Snake Falls to Earth,” which weaves together the lives of Nina and Oli in another tale of family, monsters, and magic rooted in Lipan Apache legend.