Book Review: “A Snake Falls to Earth” by Darcie Little Badger

Nina has always been fascinated by her great-great-grandmother Rosita’s stories, even those she can’t understand because Rosita tells them in Lipan, an all-but-lost Apache language. After Rosita’s death, Nina spends years working to decipher her last story, the one Rosita insisted was a vital part of their family history. Nina just knows there’s something important there, something that can explain, maybe, why there’s a photograph that suggests that Rosita was almost 150 years old, or explain if her tales of animal people are really true. And after years of looking into it, she’s got a lead.

Oli is a young cottonmouth person from the land of spirits and monsters, the last of his many siblings to leave the family home and build a life for himself. But he’s barely out the door when trouble finds him, leading his new life in a direction he didn’t expect. Just when he thinks he’s finally found his place in the world, a dear friend is stricken with a mysterious illness. Oli is determined to help, even if it means traveling to another world.

I love, love, love Darcie Little Badger’s first novel, Elatsoe, which I must have gifted at least half a dozen times in the past year (to adults and children alike). So I knew that I couldn’t miss her follow-up, and I am happy to report that it is just as good.

A Snake Falls to Earth is captivating from beginning to end. Little Badger expertly intertwines the stories of her two protagonists, but I loved how neither Nina’s nor Oli’s story was really about the other person. Their paths cross in a meaningful way, but their encounter is not the end-all and be-all of either of their narratives. Little Badger spends the first two-thirds of the book showing us who her characters are, and what they care about, before bringing them together. This is, at its heart, a character-driven novel; I would have read about Nina, Oli, and the rest doing pretty much anything – but Little Badger’s captivating worldbuilding and intricate narrative layering don’t hurt either.

Although her novels grapple with serious issues, like the loss of cultural knowledge and climate change, there’s a sense of safety that runs through Little Badger’s work. As a storyteller, she shows us both the dark and the light, but she always does so with tremendous care, humor, and compassion. There’s a reason why I gifted Elatsoe so many times last year, when all of the above seemed in short supply.

I read a lot of books, and I enjoy many of them – for their imaginative worlds, their compelling characters, their entertaining incidents, and the way they broaden my worldview. But it is much rarer, even in books I admire, to connect with one in a deeper and more timeless way – a way that makes me feel the same way I did when I read my favorite authors as a child. Darcie Little Badger’s novels are among those special books for me.

Readers might also be interested to know that Little Badger’s books are published by Levine Querido, the publishing house founded by Arthur Levine – Harry Potter’s US editor – after he left Scholastic. They’re putting out a lot of really great books, and I encourage you to check them out!

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