Prior to this and her Tantalize series, Leitich Smith wrote three books I highly recommend: her picture book Jingle Dancer, the early reader chapter book Indian Shoes, and her young adult novel Rain is Not My Indian Name. Each one is a terrific story featuring Native kids and their families. All three are set in the present day.
Feral Curse, the second book in the Feral series, introduces a Native character. Her name is Jess. She is Osage. Kayla, one of the main characters in Feral Curse, is a shapeshifter. Kayla and Jess grew up together and are good friends. In her early teens when Kayla realized she is a shapeshifter, she started to keep to herself, afraid of what people and friends will think about her, and afraid that she might inadvertently hurt or frighten them.
Some people in the world Leitich Smith creates are fine with shapeshifters; others aren't. It is that facet of the story that stands out to me as a Native women. The world Leitich Smith creates--and the attitudes of people in it--reflect the real world. Here on AICL, I've written about U.S. assimilation policies. Some of those laws and policies took land from Native peoples as a means to destroy our nationhood, and others sought to "kill the Indian and save the man." Those laws and policies were driven by attitudes held by people who did not want 'other' in the U.S.
That history is in my head as I read Feral Pride, or any book. It doesn't matter what I read. I see gaps. And misrepresentations. But as I read Feral Pride, I see Leitich Smith filling those gaps, meeting them head on.
Here's an example from early in Feral Pride. It picks up where Feral Curse left off. Feral Pride opens with Clyde. Like Kayla, he is a shapeshifter. Clyde, Yoshi, and Kayla are on the run. Both Clyde and Yoshi have more experience with being hunted than Kayla does. Jess is driving them in her dad's squad car. He's a sheriff in the small town in Texas where Kayla and Jess are from. They're headed to the Osage reservation. Here's their conversation (p. 3):*
"None of this makes sense," Kayla says from the backseat of the squad car. "It's not illegal to be what we are. Why would federal agents be gunning for us?"
"Why wouldn't they?" answers Yoshi, who's beside her.
They're both right. It's not illegal to be what we are. But whenever anything goes wrong, anything bloody and brutal, shape-shifters are presumed guilty.As I read "It's not illegal to be what we are" I thought about all the young people in the US today who some segments of society think of as "illegal." I thought about them being hunted, living in fear of being deported. I thought about how they are unfairly blamed for one social ill after another. Those who aren't branded "illegal" may not notice the work this particular part of Feral Pride is doing, but you can be sure that those who are considered "illegal" will note that passage. It speaks to them, as does Jess, on page 9, when she says:
"Shifters are people. There are terrific people. There are terrible people. Most fall in between."I keep reading Jess's words. The list of peoples in the world that have been dehumanized and demonized by terrible people is astounding. Feral Pride pushes us--if we're willing--to think about that and why it happens.
Weighty topic, I know, but Leitich Smith lightens that weight with the banter the teens engage in as they drive. They're into superheroes and science fiction characters.
And! The parts of the story where characters shift or are talking about clothes? Well, I find those parts exquisite and they make me wish I could see all of this on a movie screen. And the parts where characters from the Tantalize series join the characters in the Pride series? Well done!
There are other tensions throughout the novel that provide opportunities to think about, for example, relationships across race. Characters who experience these tensions reflect on the ways that their own flaws and experiences shape what they say, do, and think. Their reflections and conversations give them space to revisit what they think, say, and do--and of course, provide those opportunities to us, too.
Elsewhere, reviewers note some of what I did above, and they call Feral Pride compelling, action-packed, sexy, campy, and wickedly funny. I agree with all that, and am happy to recommend it.
Feral Pride is due out this year (2015) from Candlewick.
*I read an advanced reader copy of Feral Pride. Page numbers I noted above may not correspond to the book when it is published.