A Snake Falls to Earth

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Darcie Little Badger
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Pub. Date: Nov. 2021 (read Jan. 2022)

A Snake Falls to Earth was one of my most anticipated books for 2021 – I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy in 2021, so I read it early in 2022 and really enjoyed it! It’s the second book from Darcie Little Badger, whose debut novel was Elatsoe. I really loved Elatsoe, which is why I was so excited for this one.

Overall, I don’t think I liked A Snake Falls to Earth quite as much as Elatsoe, but it’s also hard to compare because they are very different books. A Snake Falls to Earth delves into Lipan Apache history and legend about the joined Era, when spirits and monsters walked the Earth. The spirit world has since become separated from Earth, but our protagonist, Nina, a Lipan Apache girl, believes animal people may still occasionally visit earth. We follow two parallel stories, that of Nina, and of Oli, a cottonmouth from the spirit world. Until one day a snake falls to earth and the two meet. 

Little Badger still captures a lot of the magic of what made Elatsoe so great in this book. I adore her writing style, which I think reads like middle grade rather than young adult, but both her stories are strongly centered around family and place. She writes very thoughtful teenagers – whether or not it’s an accurate portrayal of teens, I’m not sure, but it’s very refreshing to read. She also blends Lipan Apache storytelling and cultural elements seamlessly into the narrative. I loved learning all about the joined era and animal people and the interesting quirks and abilities of each of her family members. 

Oli’s story is much more whimsical and I didn’t find it quite as compelling early in the novel. Again, I love the characters (Oli, Reign, Risk, Ari, Brightest, and the bear, and the mockingbird), but I didn’t find myself really engaged in the story until they started their journey to earth and their adventures blended with Nina’s. Plus I found the spirit world to be somewhat lacking in tension. Oli has the run in with the Alligator and the Fish (I’m sorry I can’t remember what specific animal it was), but I’m not sure that it added a lot to the story and felt more like the kind of faux drama you’d find in a children’s book. Whereas Paul and the hurricane were more believable threats. It’s a great feel-good book, but I think it could benefit from just a little bit more conflict and tension.

I loved Grandma! I thought her connection to the land and the fact that she couldn’t leave it was fascinating. Plus I appreciated the inclusion of oral storytelling and respect for elders. I only wished that Nina had more friends. She grows throughout the course of the novel and essentially has no friends throughout. I thought that would likely have a big impact on her character over time and was sad to see that she remains a loner the entire book. I know she eventually befriends the animal people, but given that they can only visit earth occasionally, I don’t think this would really benefit her in the long term. 

Anyways, I still really liked it. The structure is interesting and falls a really different narrative than Elatsoe, but both offer something really special and different from what we see in most literature these days. Just another reason why it’s important to amplify all voices! Will definitely read whatever this author decides to write next!

Swimming Back to Trout River

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Linda Rui Feng
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: May 2021 (read May 2021)

I haven’t been seeing that much buzz about this book, so I have no idea how it got on my radar, but I found the name super compelling. Then when I read the plot and saw it was blurbed by Jean Kwok, I was super interested in reading it. 

What an understated book. It’s a simple plot with simple storytelling, but I really enjoyed it. I really like Linda Rui Feng’s style of writing and thought it was really lyrical storytelling about a family that becomes separated by time and circumstance. From the synopsis, this is the story of two parents who immigrate to America and leave their daughter with their parents in law, promising to come back for her on her 12th birthday. But the daughter, Junie, loves her life in Trout River and doesn’t know that her parents have become estranged in their new country.

The story delivered on this plot, but it’s really only a small part of what this book covers. I expected the book to mostly be about Junie, but it’s actually primarily about her parents and their connections to music. It’s not so much a multi generational story as a story of her parents growing up, their journey together, and then their journey apart. Her father, Momo, grows up in Trout River and is one of the first people to succeed and get out of the village, leaving to get a university education. There he meets Dawn, a budding violinist who teaches him to play ahead of China’s cultural revolution. Finally, he eventually meets his wife, Cassia, a nurse who has experienced her own loss through the revolution. 

Like I said, it’s an understated novel about growing up and subtly addresses the impact the cultural revolution had on many of its citizens, without being a heavy novel solely about the revolution. It’s about family, the ones we make and the ones we choose, and who we might be if events in our lives had gone differently. It’s not a long book and made for a really enjoyable read. 

The only part I didn’t really like was the ending. I found it very abrupt and would have preferred to spend a bit more time getting to know Junie rather than just her parents. That said, I loved Dawn’s character and even though she wasn’t a part of the main family, she was my favourite part of the book! Check it out if you’re looking for something a little different.

Disappearing Earth

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Julia Philips
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Pub. date: May 2019 (read Mar. 2020)

so 2020 is definitely not my best reading year. I always knew reading 100 books a year was not sustainable, but I’ve really struggled this year. I feel like I should be reading more books then ever during this pandemic, but I did just get a new puppy and have generally been feeling unmotivated when it comes to reading. That said, after giving it some thought, I think public transit might be one of my critical success factors. I spend about an hour on public transit every day and I always read during that time. So on top of the benefit of getting a consistent hour of reading in every day, it also forces me to stay super engaged with my books because I’m forced to pick them up every day. Without that I think I’ve just been feeling less inclined to pick up new books or stick with them through the early chapters.

Anyways, enough with the life update, the real goal here is to sit down and finally write a review for Disappearing Earth, which may be somewhat challenging as it took me 4 months to read and I finished it over a month ago. However, the length of time it took me to read is not at all indicative of how much I enjoyed the book. I made the mistake of starting this one at the beginning of my 5 week honeymoon in New Zealand over Christmas. I got about 40% in and then didn’t read anything for the rest of the vacation because I was having too much of a blast! So it was months later by the time I picked it up again.

Disappearing Earth is about 2 sisters in rural Russia who disappear one day while out visiting the beach. The disappearance rocks the community, impacting many who never even knew the girls, and serving to highlight the inequities that exist among the many community members.

The book has an interesting structure – each chapter is narrated by a different character and we never return to the same character twice. All of the characters are loosely connected in some way, but many are still strangers to each other. Regardless, they are all in some way impacted by the disappearance of the two girls.

While interesting, I do think the structure of the novel was one of the contributing factors to why it took me so long to read the book. It was a little disheartening to finish the end of a chapter and then feel like you had to start again with getting to know a new character. However, I do think the structure is one of the beauties of the book, so it’s not something I would change. The writing is fantastic and I loved how everyone was somewhat connected and somewhat impacted by the disappearance of the sisters. It really highlights the impact that tragedy can have on a community and how it can be perceived by different people.

Class, race, and gender are all important themes in Disappearing Earth. Many of the characters are native and while they lament the probable death of the girls, the community’s reaction to the disappearance of two young white girls mostly serves to highlight how native women are de-valued and de-prioritized by law enforcement and the general public. Culture is an important piece of this book and it is steeped in Russian culture and attitude, but I still found it a stark reminder of the inequalities here in our Canadian indigenous communities as well.

Atmosphere is one of the key parts of the book and a dark atmosphere pervades the entire novel. The disappearance of the sisters in the first chapter clouds a sense of unease over the entirety of the novel. All of the characters are struggling in some way or another, with some being made scared or uncomfortable by the disappearance of the girls, and others jaded about it. All the while you wonder if it will ever be revealed what happened to them, or if, like much of life, we’re destined to go on forever not knowing. The real pain and anguish of disappearance is the uncertainty and unknowing.

So I don’t think this book is for everyone. I wouldn’t call it a fast paced read and I do wish I had read it at a different time. It’s a heavy read, but with gorgeous and perceptive writing, I’m so glad that I stuck with it.