Jae Waller on Indigenous YA books from Canadian Publishers

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Title: The Call of the Rift: Crest

Author: Jae Waller

Publisher: ECW Press

Age range/Genre: YA fantasy

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Step through the portal into a world ravaged by chaotic spirits and corrupted magic in the third book of The Call of the Rift high fantasy series.

Kateiko Rin lives a quiet life with her parents and her people in the coastal rainforest. Everything changes when her estranged uncle washes up on their shores, harried and half-dead, trailed by two blue-eyed children no one knew existed. To protect her family, Kateiko secrets away her young cousins. Caring for them includes hiding their ties to the Rúonbattai, a warlike cult trying to claim the land for themselves along with as many lives as they can. With the immigrant mage Tiernan and his companions Jorumgard and Nerio, Kateiko enters into the fray, facing strange, dangerous magic that unwinds the fabric of time. She must end the war before it tears the land, and her family, apart.

In the third book in The Call of the Rift series, Jae Waller invites us into another dimension and introduces an alternate version of her captivating heroine in a world full of familiar and unknown faces, including many we thought long dead.

Really pleased to welcome Jae Waller, author of the Call of the Rift series, to the blog today to talk about Indigenous Canadian literature with some fantastic recommendations! 

Over to Jae:

 

Hello hello! I’m here this week on Beyond the Big 5 with the most niche recommendation list I’ve ever compiled: Indigenous YA books by indie Canadian publishers. Indigenous literature is thriving these days, especially in Canada where I’m originally from*, so I’ve compiled a cross-section of genre and form. Hopefully it can diversify your reading list no matter your tastes!

*I myself am not Indigenous, just a staunch ally. Throughout my career I’ve had the honour of studying under and working with several First Nations creators, and my own novels draw on the history of Canadian colonialism, so over the last few years I’ve made a concentrated effort to find Indigenous media – and I’m always excited to recommend it!

Strangers is a supernatural mystery set on a Cree reservation in the Canadian prairies. After years away from home, the teenage protagonist returns to his village and stumbles into chaos: murder, plague, ostracization from his community, and the ‘help’ of infamous trickster spirit Coyote (or as he dubs himself, Obi-Wan Coyote.) Both hilarious and darkly powerful, this novel is absolutely worth picking up.

Originally a film that the screenwriter later adapted into a novel, Fire Song is a contemporary LGBTQ+ story about a two-spirited Anishinaabe boy coming to terms with his sexuality while reeling from the grief of his sister’s recent suicide. With lyrical prose and hints of magic realism, this book is a raw, intimate look at life on Native reservations, wracked by intergenerational trauma but also bolstered by intergenerational love.

Ranging from comic to tragic to philosophic, this short story collection puts an Indigenous spin on classic sci-fi tropes. Most stories are set on the same Anishinaabe reservation, but each one brings a new perspective: First Nations time travellers and space travellers, the comparison of European colonization and alien colonization, an AI looking to Indigenous spirituality to determine if it has a soul, and more.

I’d be remiss not to mention The Marrow Thieves. In this dystopian world wracked by global warming, Indigenous people are the only ones who still have the ability to dream, and their bone marrow is the cure for everyone else to regain the ability. The story, which follows a Métis boy on the run from marrow thieves, is a powerful allegory for colonialism. Reading this novel resulted in me crying on an airplane, and really, what better praise is there? :’)

This novel is technically adult fiction, but it’s a quick read with crossover appeal to younger audiences. Moon of the Crusted Snow is the story of a remote Anishinaabe community that gets cut off from the world due to a mysterious apocalypse. However, as an elder character points out, Indigenous peoples have already faced the end of the world as they know it – and survived. I read this book pre-pandemic, but it hits even harder these days. Read it during winter for maximum impact!

This Place is a graphic novel anthology that invites readers to “explore the last 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators.” This one is still on my to-read list, but I’ve read so much praise for both the writing and the art that I feel confident recommending it. (And if you enjoy it, HighWater has published a whole bunch of other Indigenous graphic novels!)

Although this novel is by a white author, it features an Inuit character among a superhero-esque gang of teenagers. Scion of the Fox is an animal-based fantasy set in Winnipeg in the Canadian prairies. I love how this story is linked to the land, which gives it a uniquely Canadian vibe, and it’s one of the few YA books I’ve found with Inuit rep. (All the others are from Inhabitmedia, an Inuit-owned publisher – check them out if you’re looking for that!)

Jae Waller was born and raised in a lumber town in northern British Columbia, Canada. She was involved in local punk music and didn’t plan to attend university. Inexplicably, she now has a BFA in creative writing and fine art from UNBC and Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

She also studied Japanese and French, and briefly attended UBC to study linguistics. Her life goal is to be quintilingual. Most interesting past job: streetside florist with a charity for homeless citizens in Vancouver.

Currently, she lives in Melbourne and works as a novelist and freelance artist.

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