Book Review: Trickster’s Girl by Hilari Bell

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

281 pp.

This is not a book review. I was not able to finish the book or even get farther than three chapters.  This is because Trickster’s Girl is kind of awful. It is a “gee, why don’t I write a fantasy with a completely random non-specific hodge-podge of Native American mythology and then completely disrespect it via my heroine!” kind of book. It is a “why don’t I glom together a bunch of Native American belief systems then randomly throw in new agey ley lines!” kind of book. It is a “I have never heard of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and therefore do not realize how badly I needed it!” kind of book.

Of course, I had my general misgivings just from the summary, which involves “the mythological creature Raven” wanting the female protagonist to help him avert some kind of ecological disaster. (Sometimes it is not fair to judge a book by its summary, because sometimes the summary is wrong or stupid. This was not the case.) My first thought was “creature?” Shouldn’t that be “being?” Also, what “mythology” are we using here? (As you may know, there is more than one “Native American” culture and therefore, more than one mythological system.)

I ran into problems within just a few pages!

  • We open with a graveside funeral in which there is no body or ashes. I get the feeling this is supposed to symbolize something. Our Heroine, a girl named Kelsa, does not feel that her mother is grieving as hard as she is. She is also upset because the funeral speech is kind of canned.
  • We discover that Our Heroine has somehow stolen her father’s ashes. She goes on to steal a posthole digger from a neighbor and goes off to give her father a “real” burial.
  • She meets a boy her age who says weird things about having been looking for her. She immediately assumes he wants to rape her. There is very little narrative or dialog cues to explain why she would immediately assume a kid her own age is automatically a rapist or a pimp. (“Pimp” was her second suspicion. Since presumably Raven is a dark skinned boy, we can assume that Kelsa is deeply racist.)
  • Boy is the stupidest Raven ever. You don’t just walk up to someone and expect them to know a) magic is real in an apparently nonmagical or “under the surface magical” environment b) who the heck you are.
  • Lots and lots of stupid invented slang to avoid using actual swear words. At least it’s not “fardles.”
  • I have the general feeling that the characters dialog and actions are being performed with Barbie and Ken dolls by the writer. That is to say, narrative is not fantastic when it is made of plastic.
  • It turns out Raven need’s Our Heroine’s help to steal a medicine pouch from a museum. This magical medicine pouch is supposed to be the cure for an environmental disaster that is destroying all the trees. Ley lines are also involved
  • Female protagonist is doing the “there must be a logical explanation for the completely illogical and impossible things happening because magic isn’t real” thing so hard it is kind of impossible to see why Raven thinks she can do anything for him.

The deal breaker however was this quote:

 But the Native American *myths were clearly myths not history…In truth, the Native American spirits reminded Kelsa of the Greek gods–quarrelsome, selfish, greedy and jealous. Way too “human” for comfort, if you forced to admit they might not only exist but but really have some kind of supernatural power.

 Yes, let’s make generalized, sweeping and judgmental statements about cultures/*mythological systems you actually know nothing about.   

*Dear everyone, “myth” does not actually mean false. Myths are stories that explain the cosmological framework of a belief system/culture. When I use the word “myth” that is in fact what I mean.      

Parts of this unreview were previously posted elsewhere.

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Filed under apocalyptic, book, fantasy, Hilari Bell, near future, race/ethnicity issues, Review: Book, science fiction elements, young adult

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