A Book Written by an Indigenous Author Age 30 or Under: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2023
To quote Whitney Houston out of context, the children are our future, or in this case, young authors. Young authors bring an immediate and fresh voice to their work. And in terms of social issues, young people's voices are vital as they draw attention to new perspectives that affect us all but perhaps have a unique impact on them. This is especially true for young authors from marginalized communities, who not only face the same questions that all people struggle with but also face additional structural and institutional challenges and barriers. This is another reason to celebrate young Indigenous authors: for the power, beauty and joy they express in their works, and for how these reflect back to and from their communities and nations.
In this category, we are highlighting both current Indigenous authors under 30 or those who were under 30 when they wrote their works. Below is my recommendation:
Avenue of Champions by Conor Kerr
This is a strong story cycle about a young Métis boy named Daniel, living on the rough, north side of Edmonton. The book is a sarcastic nod to the main strip of this part of Edmonton that seems to drag down any hope amongst those who live there, its Indigenous youth most of all. Daniel is smart and full of life, mischief and love. The story follows him as he grows up. His Granny is the most important person in his life and we meet her initially as a little girl with her Granny on the land of the Papaschase First Nation when it is confiscated by the RCMP to be gentrified while its people are displaced and dispersed. Granny gives Daniel his identity and his heritage—his love, goodness and humour. But she is also harsh, cynical and fatalistic, a consequence of so much trauma. As Daniel ages, he is loved and supported by two other strong women—his girlfriend Cheryl and a fellow student Kershaw—who rebuke and resist the path that Granny represents but that Daniel is drawn to nonetheless.
- A book about survival
Recommendations from TPL staff
These books were picked by our staff for a book by an Indigenous author under 30.
The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew
This very powerful memoir tells the story of Kinew’s father's years in a residential school, the damage it did to him and his inspirational recovery later in life. The Reason You Walk explores two journeys of reconciliation: that of a father and a son and that of a country searching for healing and a way forward. The book takes place in 2012 when Kinew left his work to reconnect with his father who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I recommend this book as the reader really learns about Indigenous culture and the beautiful customs they practice.
- A book you would recommend to your younger self
Bobbi Lee, Indian Rebel by Lee Maracle
Lee was an incredible Stó꞉lō author who passed away in 2021. This is her book that was first published in 1975 when Lee was 25 years old. It was reissued in 1990.
I recommend this book not only because what Lee shares within it is still relevant today, or because of the honesty and directness of her words, but also because she helped to forge a path for Indigenous authors to be heard by a wider audience.
—Jamie Lee, Digital Content Lead
Kwändǖr by Cole Pauls
I’ve been recommending graphic books by Cole Pauls. Cole is from Yukon Territory, and his comics often incorporate Southern Tutchone language lessons. Kwändǖr from 2022 is his most personal. Pauls shares Kwändǖr, or stories, about his family, racism and identity, Yukon history, winter activities, Southern Tutchone language lessons and cultural practices.
- A non-fiction graphic novel
Other recommended titles by Pauls:
- Dakwäkãda Warriors, which takes place both on earth and in space. This book is about Earth Protectors saving the planet from evil pioneers and cyborg sasquatches, exploring colonization through a sci-fi lens.
Pizza Punks, a collection that is as advertised: all about punks who love pizza!
Disintegrate/dissociate: Poems by Arielle Twist
In this debut collection of poems, the author, a two-spirit transgender writer from George Gordon First Nation, delves deep into human nature by exploring the different emotions that we experience in our lives. Apart from the clever manipulation with punctuation and poetic structure, what catches the reader's attention is the minimalism in words. The author has said in an interview, “I always felt poetry was for white people.” But, when exposed to other Indigenous writers and poets, she felt she had to express herself through poetry.
- A book by a 2SLGBTQ+ author who is also part of another marginalized group
—Radha, Senior Branch Head
Taaqtumi: an Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories edited by Christopher Neil
This is a collection of horror stories set in Northern Canada, all written by Northern authors. Most of the authors are Indigenous and at least one (Aviaq Johnston) is under 30, so I'm calling this one close enough to fit! The stories in the anthology range from classically creepy tales of being alone in the dark to near-future zombie-esque science fiction horror, and often include elements of Inuit folklore and language. A short anthology that's well worth a read.
- A book about survival
- A book about a land you would like to explore
Fire Starters by Jen Storm
This is a graphic novel that looks at how racism affects the lives of Indigenous people in a small community. Ron and Ben, both indigenous, are accused of burning down a gas bar and the story follows the consequences of the false accusation. At about 50 pages, it is a quick and powerful read. Jen is Ojibway and published her first novel, Deadly Loyalties, at age 14.
Those Who Dwell Below by Aviaq Johnston
This book is a sequel to Those Who Run in the Sky but also works well as a standalone. It continues Pitu's journey as a shaman when he is called for assistance by a neighbouring village that is suffering hunger due to a supernatural depletion of fish and marine harvest. Pitu must determine how the sea goddess Nuliajuk has been given offence and how the village's food source must be restored. To do so, he must brave a difficult journey to the spirit world and convince an owl spirit to guide him. I highly recommend this book for its memorable description of Inuit mythology, its haunting atmosphere, and its illumination of social themes and practices such as the treatment of women and orphans, the process of dispute resolution and community reconciliation among the Inuit.
Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer. Told in a nonlinear fashion, this book is about Jonny, who lives in the big city as a cybersex worker but has to travel to his reservation for his stepfather’s funeral. All the characters are quite complex, battling with their personal tragedies and traumas but at the same time looking forward to the fulfillment of their dreams and aspirations.
- A book about survival
- A book by a 2SLGBTQ+ author
—Dominika, Senior Public Service Assistant
Recommendations from the Facebook Group
These are just some of the suggested titles from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2023 discussion group. You can read all of the responses in the original post. You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.
- The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
- Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
- Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock by Drew Haden Taylor
- Bad Cree by Jessica Johns
- Urban Indigenous Youth Reframing Two-Spirit by Marie Laing
- Tauhou by Kōtuku Titihuia Nuttall
- Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty
- Half-bads in White Regalia by Cody Caetano
- Crow Winter by Karen McBride
- Fireweed by T'áncháy Redvers
- A Minor Chorus by Billy Ray Bellacourt
- Those Who Run in the Sky by Aviaq Johnston
If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for Des auteures et auteurs autochtones âgés de 30 ans ou moins : suggéstions pour le Défi lecture—there's a mix of books, eBooks and digital audiobooks to try!
What did you read for a book by an indigenous author under 30? Do you have other recommendations? Share in the comments below!