An anxious sixth-grader spends a night in the desert seeking closure in Brandon Hobson's unconventional and surreal Indigenous adventure, The Storyteller.
Ziggy Echota's mom disappeared 10 years ago, one of many Native women missing from mountainous Poisonberry, N. Mex. Classmate Alice's sister vanished, too, and Alice agrees to guide Ziggy to secret caves that could hold clues about his mom. Alice is full of stories, especially about the Nunnehi, magical, protective Cherokee storytellers. Their overnight adventure involves eccentric characters, each of whom imparts a lesson to Ziggy. Unconventional stories from Ziggy's motorcycle-driving grandma feel practically mundane after a vitriolic encounter with Andrew Jackson reincarnated as an armadillo, and an appearance by a hawk with Beatlemania. With wisdom gained from these encounters, though, Ziggy subdues his grief and embraces the power of memories to bring peace.
National Book Award finalist Hobson (Where the Dead Sit Talking) begins his children's/teen book career with a quest deeply rooted in his Cherokee identity. Using efficient sentence structure and episodic chapters, Hobson embraces the unreliability of his characters and melds fantasy with folklore to yield trippy results. "Stories don't have to be believable to be true," says Alice. "And stories don't have to be true to be believable," comes the response. These tensions are omnipresent. Ziggy is profoundly connected to history yet desperate to release the past; he is drawn to the natural world yet terrified of its dangers. Ziggy's is an unexpected and offbeat mystery, but readers who dip down this rabbit hole should find it intriguing. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf