Book Review | The Storyteller (ARC)

I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Storyteller by Brandon Hobson. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.

In The Storyteller, Ziggy is struggling in middle school due to his anxiety, as well as due to the lingering sense of loss that has pervaded his life, ever since his mother disappeared years ago. He knows that this isn’t uncommon, as thousands of other Native women have gone missing. But he still feels haunted by what his life might have been. When he meets a girl, Alice, at school, who claims that she’s seen a secret cave in the desert, he decides to find it—one of the only things he knows about his mother, after all, is that she loved exploring nature. But the late night adventure Ziggy and his friends find themselves on, however, is like nothing he imagined.

This story is a strange experience, full of Native (specifically Cherokee) folklore and magical realism. Some of the things Ziggy encounters during his sleepless night in the desert seemed nonsensical and confusing, like the talking animals. But once you get into the adventure, you just kind of roll with it.

On another note, I really liked Ziggy. He’s a sympathetic protagonist, grappling with lots of complex emotions that he doesn’t know how to handle, both due to his youth and to the fact that these feelings are hard to handle. I also liked Alice, Moon, and Corso.

I also enjoyed the lessons that Ziggy derives from his unusual night—about self-acceptance and forgiveness, about violence and trust, about love and grief. They’re spelled out pretty succinctly and obviously, but given that this is a book for kids, it makes sense. And it makes sense for Ziggy’s journey too. Another aspect of the story that I thought was handled very well was the relationship with the past. There are many things we all wish would have gone differently, from major historical events to personal or familial ones. Ziggy has to deal with how the trauma of the Trail of Tears echoes down to him, as well as how his mother’s disappearance immediately hurts him and his family. There are many touching moments about not letting the past supersede the present, and how bad memories cannot rule you so much that you can’t live your own life.

In the end, The Storyteller is a surreal but poignant novel. The characters are strong, the plot is engaging and odd, and the themes and emotions are affecting. It was a quick read for me, but a good one overall.

The Storyteller will be published on April 18th, 2023!

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