Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream…
We’re excited to share the cover and preview an excerpt from Elatsoe, the debut novel from Darcie Little Badger with cover art and illustrations by Rovina Cai!
Elatsoe publishes August 25th with Levine Querido:
Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.
There are some differences. This America been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.
Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered, in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.
Darcie Little Badger is an Earth scientist, writer, and fan of the weird, beautiful, and haunting. She is an enrolled member of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. Elatsoe is her debut novel.
Illustrator Rovina Cai lives in Melbourne, Australia and her work has been recognised by organizations such as the Society of Illustrators, Spectrum Fantastic Art, and the Children’s Book Council of Australia.
Sometimes, the world was too mysterious for her liking; Ellie intended to change that someday. In the kitchen, her father nursed a mug of coffee.
“You’re awake before noon?” he asked. “Did summer end while I was sleeping?” He smiled with his mouth, but his brown eyes seemed sad.
“Feels like it,” Ellie said. “Where’s Mom?” “She took a dawn flight to McAllen.”
“Is that because…” Ellie trailed off. Every word about the tragedy felt like a psychic paper cut, and too many stings would make her cry. There was nothing shameful about tears, but Ellie hated the way her face ached when she wept. The pain felt like a head cold. “When did it happen?”
“Last night,” her father said. “Around two-thirty. He peacefully walked to the underworld. No struggle, no pain.”
“No pain? You can’t know that, Dad.” Although Ellie spoke softly, he heard her. Must have. He no longer pretended to smile.
“Lenore needs help with Baby Gregory. That’s why your mother left suddenly.” He put his coffee on the counter and hugged Ellie. His wool vest tickled her chin. Ellie’s father had to wear blue scrubs and a physician’s lab coat at work, but during off-days, he broke out the cable-knit sweaters, tweed pants, and scratchy wool vests. “She has other duties. Your aunt and uncle are crushed with grief. They can’t handle the burial preparations alone.”
Oddly, thinking about Trevor’s widow, infant son, and parents helped Ellie push through. She had a job to do: pro- tect them from Abe Allerton. “Are the police investigating the crash?” she asked.
“I believe so.”
“Let me make it easier. Abe Allerton killed him. Abe Allerton from a town called Willowbee.”
Her father stepped back, perturbed. “Why do you believe that?”
“Cuz spoke to me in a dream. Told me who killed him. Same way that drowned boy told Six-Great-Grandmother about the river monster.”
“I see.” Judging by his furrowed brow, that was an exag- geration, at best. “Wait. What river monster are you refer- ring to? Didn’t she fight a few?”
“The one with a human face and poison scales. That’s not important. Dad, I think Cuz reached out to me in between phases, after his last exhale but before his spirit went Below.”
“It’s possible. You and Six-Great are so much alike.”
“You think so?” she asked.
“Sure. I never met the woman, obviously, but you’re both remarkable ghost trainers. Intelligent and brave, too.”
Ellie smiled faintly. “Thanks,” she said, taking a glass from the cupboard and pouring herself some orange juice. She had no appetite for solid breakfast. “You know what this all means, though, right? Abe Allerton from Willowbee is a murderer, and he cannot hurt anybody else.”
“Should I doubt myself? Can we really take that risk? Six-Great trusted her dream, and the decision probably saved lives.”
“No. But…” Her father took a long sip of coffee. “As you slept, did Tre—I mean, did your cousin describe the murder?”
She shook her head. “We had so little time. Dad, he looked terrible. Bleeding and broken. It must have been tor- ture. Can we call somebody? What about a sheriff?”
“Give the police a few days,” her father said. “Let them investigate.”
“Will they, though?” She thumped her glass on the counter. Pulpy juice spilled over its rim and pooled between tiles. “Everyone thinks it was a car crash, right? Even Lenore!”
“Ah. Well. That doesn’t surprise me.” Her father adopted a dry tone, the kind he used to talk about clinical details from work. “Your cousin’s injuries are consistent with trauma from a high-speed collision.”
“He was driving fast? Where did it happen? A highway? Weren’t there any witnesses?”
“No. A farmer found him along a wooded road. It was isolated. Not your cousin’s usual route home. But he was alone in his damaged car.”
“That’s a big red flag. Tell the police he’d never speed like that without a good reason. Obviously Abe Allerton was chasing him.” Yet that wasn’t the obvious answer at all. In Ellie’s dream, Trevor never mentioned a high-speed pursuit. He said Abe had murdered him. That required intent. What was the motive?
“Right now,” Ellie’s father said, “everybody is still won- dering what happened, not who did it.”
“The what and who are linked! So, let’s use the who to find the what!”
“You aren’t wrong.” Ellie’s father moved to the dining nook, a table and three wicker chairs. He unfolded a paper map of Texas and spread it over the crumb-freckled hardwood tabletop. The map resembled a wrinkled tablecloth inter- woven by roads, rivers, and county lines.
“What’s that for?” Ellie asked.
“Your mother needs a car, so we’ll drive to the burial. I can leave the van with her and take a plane home.”
“Will Mom be gone a long time?” Ellie’s mother, Vivian (Ms. Bride to her students), taught high school math. The job might not be easy, but it came with one major perk: she had two months of summer vacation. “I can help her!”
“Are you sure? She wants to live with Lenore until things are settled. Might take weeks.”
“I’m sure.” She couldn’t protect Trevor’s family with an 800-mile gulf between them.
“Thank you.” Her father traced a path from North to South Texas. “This is our route.”
“When do we leave?” Ellie asked.
“Two days.” He leaned closer to the map, squinting, and pointed to a spot near the bottom of Texas. “What’s that town name, Ellie? I’m not wearing glasses.”
Ellie peered at the word above his fingertip. It was faint, as if printed incorrectly. “It says Willowbee. Dad…”
“I thought the name sounded familiar.” He checked the map scale. “Willowbee is about thirty miles away from the elementary school, and ten miles away from the road.”
“The road?” she asked.
“Where your cousin was found.” He looked up. “I believe you, Ellie.”
Excerpted from Elatsoe, copyright © 2020 by Darcie Little Badger.