Living Ghosts & Mischievous Monsters: Chilling American Indian Stories by Dan Sasuweh Jones, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre. Scholastic, 2021. 9781338681604
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? Jones, former chairman of the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, presents thirty-two tales of the preternatural and the paranormal, arising from the beliefs and storytelling traditions of Indigenous people across the North American continent. Background notes are supplied that acknowledge print and online sources, the names of storytellers and their tribal or national affiliations, and whether permission need be sought to recount the events in question. Stories are more or less evenly distributed into five sections (headed, in order, Ghosts, Spirits, Witches, Monsters, The Supernatural). Some of the finest arise from Jones’s friendship with Indian elders— in “Exorcism of the Blood Bull Boy”, his visit to the late Floyd Tiny Man Heavyrunner (Blackfeet) is interrupted by a family whose son has been “possessed by a fierce Wild Spirit”. In “Billy Goat and Bigfoot”, an elder from among the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation recounts the taking of his dogs, one by one, by a sasquatch. Here, a collection otherwise more ghostly than grisly attains its apex of gore: “Hanging in a tree limb was a long strip of blood-soaked hairy skin— a strip of my dog’s hide— no mistaking the color of his hair. That beast was skinning my dog while he was running away with it— like peeling an orange!”
Indeed, for a collection marketed as “perfect for fans of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, such transports of horror are perhaps scarcer than expected. Certainly, Alvitre (Tongva)— notable for her mystic color work on Traci Sorell’s At the Mountain’s Base— ventures not so far as Stephen Gammell in rendering the gruesome. Still, her work has its own uncanniness, and her figures leer forth with an icey malevolence.
Anything you didn’t like about it? Generally, this is a fine collection with ample capability to produce frisson in readers young and old! Not every story succeeds, but most do; even without emphasizing the value of a collection of Indigenous horror stories compiled by an Indigenous author (which should be emphasized, and loudly), this collection earns a place on shelves everywhere.
To whom would you recommend this book? Display with: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the recent anthology Don’t Turn Out The Lights, Anica Mrose Rissi’s Hide and Don’t Seek, and collections by Josh Allen and Jeff Szpirglas.
Who should buy this book? Public libraries, elementary and middle school libraries, parents of young ghouls.
Where would you shelve it? Juvenile fiction (short stories), or nonfiction (Dewey range 398).
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes.
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Zeb Wimsatt, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, MA.
Date of review: October 15, 2021