Recently I was lucky to present at our state comic con on Teen Girls in Space, and one of the focuses of my panel contributions was diversity in pop culture. I got to really dig into the still terrible statistics of representation in literature and media, and while it was nice to see the numbers getting better, all in all it is a “long way to go” situation – unsurprising to any Pajiban and Cannonballer, I am sure.
Of the many major bummers, one super-major bummer was seeing representation of indigenous kids in children and teen books. In 2018, publishing just cracked 1% in the amount of representation American Indian and First Nations kids got as lead characters in books. Which means prior to that it was less than 1%. I mean this in a most authentic way: YIKES. You can see how the numbers break down over all cultures in this great graphic that showcases representation as a series of mirrors – how many mirrors a white kid gets in their books vs. other cultural communities.
Getting more works published by the Native community is hugely vital, and I am trying to read more of what is out there myself. This year I started with this lovely middle grade novel.
Edie is a member of the Suquamish and Duwamish nations on her mom’s side, but she doesn’t know a lot about her family history other than that her Native mom was adopted by a white couple. Her mother hasn’t shared her own history and they have no other family that Edie is aware of. The mystery of her ancestry is unexpectedly dropped in her lap when she finds a box of photos and letters hidden in the attic, belonging to a woman named Edith. Edith was apparently a model – maybe even a movie star? And she is undeniably related to Edie and her mom. But when Edie drops some curious hints that she might know a little about her mother’s past and would like to know more, her mother clams up — and even outright lies. The deeper she dives into the letters of Edith’s past, the more questions Edie has, and the more her need to fill the blanks in her family tree grows.
I really loved this book for the perspectives it brings and the history it sheds light on. Adoption stories are still pretty rare in children’s books, and this is definitely the first time I’ve come across a book that showcases how adoption can affect the adoptee’s future generations. Then there is the circumstances of Edie’s mother’s adoption, which I’m embarrassed to say is a part of history I knew nothing about, but am glad I learned. The mystery of this book is fairly predictable, in that it is clear that Edith is Edie’s grandmother. It’s the themes of cultural erasure and the atrocities of American history that will have the impact on readers here – especially since it concerns atrocities not very far removed from the current generation of kids.
The narrative is also well-written, and Edie also gets to share her life as a middle schooler – changing friendships, finding what is important to her, looming school projects, and family conflicts. It’s nice to see a story with two present, loving parents – even if their secrecy is frustrating to Edie, we see how much they love her, and come to understand the difficulty in sharing her mother’s history. The only frustrating thing as an adult reader is that I would love to read both Edie’s mom’s story, as well as Edith’s herself. An adult multi-generational book that really digs into all three women would be incredible.
A must-read for all middle schoolers, and anyone seeking more representation of indigenous folks in a contemporary setting.