When Nina, a Lipan Apache girl in our world, hears a story from her great-great grandmother Rosita about a fish girl in her well, Nina sets out to translate her story and find out if animal people still travel to Earth. Oli, a cottonmouth animal person, lives in the Reflecting World, the land of spirits and monsters. When Oli’s friend, a toad named Ami grows ill due to impending extinction, Oli and his friends commit to going to Earth to discover what’s happening to Oli’s species and help. On Earth, Nina and Oli’s stories collide as they help each other through a world being destroyed by climate change.
This is a fun, thoughtful story rooted in Lipan Apache storytelling. The chapters following Oli’s perspective were fun and whimsical as we watched him strike out on his own, find a place where he belonged, and make friends with other animal people. The chapters following Nina’s perspective were rich in storytelling and revealed a world wrecked by climate change including rising ocean temperatures which her mom was studying and volatile weather in her area of Texas. I thought the book expertly balanced between the more serious tone of Nina’s perspective and the lighter, fun story of Oli.
The book has a steady pacing, not fast but not leisurely. It’s character-driven and we get to know a lot about both Nina and Oli, as well as the secondary characters like Oli’s coyote friends Risk and Reign, and Nina’s grandmother who lives on, and seems to be tied to, her family’s land. When the two perspectives converged is really when the stakes got higher and the plot started moving more swiftly, but I truly enjoyed the whole book.
I think Darcie Little Badger is an excellent writer. She uses lyrical prose that reads like poetry and often feels like someone is reciting a story for you. I loved the intertwining of traditional Lipan Apache folklore with a thoughtful rumination on the devastating impact of climate change. It was both moving and thought-provoking, and handled sensitively but truthfully for younger readers.
Overall, this was a fun, immersive, magical story with compelling characters. Though it did move a little slowly at times, the characters were endearing enough to keep me interested. I’m looking forward to what Little Badger will do next.
CW: gun violence, blood