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Looking for the best YA book of 2023? You’ll find mystery, suspense, romance, and laughter in the pages of this book!
What Makes a Best YA Book of 2023?
Who gives me the right to name the best YA book of 2023 (in April)? Let me explain my criteria first. I have taught English to Native American students for the past decade. I always look for ways to help my students fall in love with books and characters. But for years, most YA books ABOUT Native Americans were written by whites. My students liked some of them, and others they found offensive or way off. The publishing industry has caught on to the fact that kids like to find people who look like them on the back cover of books. I love the trend of publishing YA titles by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) authors.
For my students and me, books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, The Brave, and Firekeeper’s Daughter hit the sweet spot of fun fiction, engaging Native American protagonists, and issues Indigenous people face all wrapped up in superior writing. Warrior Girl Unearthed joins the other titles, and I’m calling it the best YA book of 2023.
By Angeline Boulley, Henry Holt and Co., May 2, 2023, 400 pages, 16+
While she may not have the book smarts her twin sister, Pauline, has, Perry Firekeeper-Birch knows the best fishing spots on Sugar Island. Perry knows people, places, and traditions that make her a strong Anishinaabe woman. She doesn’t need academic accolades to prove her worth. But when a careless moment of speeding results in her crashing the Jeep her Auntie Daunis gave her and Pauline, Perry’s idyllic summer plans fall around her like spring rain.
Instead of fishing and chilling, Perry cleans display cases in the tribal museum as an intern for the eccentric Cooper Turtle. She doesn’t expect to like her new boss nor to discover professors at Mackinac State College horde human remains from her tribe in the basement of their museum. Perry also doesn’t expect to like her fellow interns on Team Misfit Toys—especially the new boy in town, Erik Miller.
The Problems Everyone Ignores
The more Perry learns about the missing ancestors and grave robbers, the more she wants to do something to bring them home for a proper burial on Sugar Island. Everyone has ignored the problem for far too long. When one of her Misfit Toys teammates goes missing, Perry knows she can no longer ignore the other problem facing her tribe—the high rate of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
As she learns more about the inner workings of tribal agencies, Perry discovers not all politicians lead to serve. Some of them give her the creeps. Life gets even more complicated when she stumbles over a dead body at a banquet, and everyone suspects Auntie Daunis.
Can Perry, the misfits, and a couple of grannies pull off a heist to return the missing ancestors to the tribe? And will they find her missing friend before it’s too late?
What I Loved About This Book
Boulley paints a vivid picture of the duality Native Americans live with—part of the United States, yet still not accepted by society at large. The author blends suspense with humor to keep a deadly serious topic from overwhelming the reader.
Readers will appreciate learning more about Native American beliefs and traditions. They’ll also identify with Perry and how a passion for justice helps her break out of the box others have placed her in.
Perry comes to understand how unscrupulous people prey on Native Americans and their sacred objects and traditions—all in the name of research, science, and history. What she sees awakens the warrior girl hidden within and makes her confront how far she would go to right a wrong.
Readers who loved Firekeeper’s Daughter, Boulley’s debut novel, will love Warrior Girl Unearthed. The mature topics and language make this book most appropriate for older teens and young adults. Teachers and librarians will want to add this important own voices novel to their collections. I can’t wait until my copies arrive next week so I can share them with my students.