Native American Heritage Month: November
November is Native American Heritage Month, which honors the cultures and traditions of Indigenous peoples of North America. Today’s Indigenous young adult writing community is dynamic and on the rise. So is the resulting body of compelling, quality teen literature that tackles daily life and fantasy stories of teens grounded in their Indigenous identities and communities. Please enjoy this recommended list of YA books by Indigenous authors about Indigenous teen characters not just this month but all year long.
Rez Ball by Byron Graves
These days, Tre Brun is happiest when he is playing basketball on the Red Lake Reservation high school team—even though he can’t help but be constantly gut-punched with memories of his big brother, Jaxon, who died in an accident. When Jaxon's former teammates on the varsity team offer to take Tre under their wing, he sees this as his shot to represent his Ojibwe rez all the way to their first state championship. This is the first step toward his dream of playing in the NBA, no matter how much the odds are stacked against him. But stepping into his brother’s shoes as a star player means that Tre can’t mess up. Not on the court, not at school, and not with his new friend, gamer Khiana, who he is definitely not falling in love with. After decades of rez teams almost making it, Tre needs to take his team to state. Because if he can live up to Jaxon's dreams, their story isn’t over yet.
Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley
Perry Firekeeper-Birch was ready for her Summer of Slack but instead, after a fender bender that was entirely not her fault, she’s stuck working to pay back her Auntie Daunis for repairs to the Jeep.
Thankfully she has the other outcasts of the summer program, Team Misfit Toys, and even her twin sister Pauline. Together they ace obstacle courses, plan vigils for missing women in the community, and make sure summer doesn’t feel so lost after all.
But when she attends a meeting at a local university, Perry learns about the “Warrior Girl”, an ancestor whose bones and knife are stored in the museum archives, and everything changes. Perry has to return Warrior Girl to her tribe. Determined to help, she learns all she can about NAGPRA, the federal law that allows tribes to request the return of ancestral remains and sacred items. The university has been using legal loopholes to hold onto Warrior Girl and twelve other Anishinaabe ancestors’ remains, and Perry and the Misfits won’t let it go on any longer.
Using all of their skills and resources, the Misfits realize a heist is the only way to bring back the stolen artifacts and remains for good. But there is more to this repatriation than meets the eye as more women disappear and Pauline’s perfectionism takes a turn for the worse. As secrets and mysteries unfurl, Perry and the Misfits must fight to find a way to make things right – for the ancestors and for their community.
Saints of the Household by Ari Tison
Max and Jay have always depended on one another for their survival. Growing up with a physically abusive father, the two Bribri American brothers have learned that the only way to protect themselves and their mother is to stick to a schedule and keep their heads down.
But when they hear a classmate in trouble in the woods, instinct takes over and they intervene, breaking up a fight and beating their high school's star soccer player to a pulp. This act of violence threatens the brothers' dreams for the future and their beliefs about who they are. As the true details of that fateful afternoon unfold over the course of the novel, Max and Jay grapple with the weight of their actions, their shifting relationship as brothers, and the realization that they may be more like their father than they thought. They'll have to reach back to their Bribri roots to find their way forward.
Godly Heathens by H.E. Edgmon
Gem Echols is a nonbinary Seminole teen living in the tiny town of Gracie, Georgia. Known for being their peers’ queer awakening, Gem leans hard on charm to disguise the anxious mess they are beneath. The only person privy to their authentic self is another trans kid, Enzo, who’s a thousand long, painful miles away in Brooklyn.
But even Enzo doesn’t know about Gem’s dreams, haunting visions of magic and violence that have always felt too real. So how the hell does Willa Mae Hardy? The strange new girl in town acts like she and Gem are old companions, and seems to know things about them they’ve never told anyone else.
When Gem is attacked by a stranger claiming to be the Goddess of Death, Willa Mae saves their life and finally offers some answers. She and Gem are reincarnated gods who’ve known and loved each other across lifetimes. But Gem – or at least who Gem used to be - hasn’t always been the most benevolent deity. They’ve made a lot of enemies in the pantheon—enemies who, like the Goddess of Death, will keep coming.
It’s a good thing they’ve still got Enzo. But as worlds collide and the past catches up with the present, Gem will discover that everyone has something to hide.
Funeral Songs for Dying Girls by Cherie Dimaline
Winifred has lived in the apartment above the cemetery office with her father, who works in the crematorium all her life, close to her mother's grave. With her sixteenth birthday only days away, Winifred has settled into a lazy summer schedule, lugging her obese Chihuahua around the grounds in a squeaky red wagon to visit the neglected gravesides and nursing a serious crush on her best friend, Jack.
Her habit of wandering the graveyard at all hours has started a rumor that Winterson Cemetery might be haunted. It's welcome news since the crematorium is on the verge of closure and her father's job being outsourced. Now that the ghost tours have started, Winifred just might be able to save her father's job and the only home she's ever known, not to mention being able to stay close to where her mother is buried. All she has to do is get help from her con-artist cousin to keep up the rouse and somehow manage to stop her father from believing his wife has returned from the grave. But when Phil, an actual ghost of a teen girl who lived and died in the ravine next to the cemetery, starts showing up, Winifred begins to question everything she believes about life, love and death. Especially love.
Those Pink Mountain Nights by Jen Ferguson
Over-achievement isn’t a bad word—for Berlin, it’s the goal. She’s securing excellent grades, planning her future, and working a part-time job at Pink Mountain Pizza, a legendary local business. Who says she needs a best friend by her side?
Dropping out of high school wasn’t smart—but it was necessary for Cameron. Since his cousin Kiki’s disappearance, it’s hard enough to find the funny side of life, especially when the whole town has forgotten Kiki. To them, she’s just another missing Native girl.
People at school label Jessie a tease, a rich girl—and honestly, she’s both. But Jessie knows she contains multitudes. Maybe her new job crafting pizzas will give her the high-energy outlet she desperately wants.
When the weekend at Pink Mountain Pizza takes unexpected turns, all three teens will have to acknowledge the various ways they’ve been hurt—and how much they need each other to hold it all together.