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“Strangers”

By David A. Robertson (HighWater Press)

Ten years ago, Cole Harper, a child of the Wounded Sky First Nation, made a deal with a spirit being and saved his best friends from a school fire that took the lives of his mother, fellow students, and community members. Now seventeen, Cole is living with his remaining relatives in the city, haunted and afraid of remembering the past, when an old friend sends him a series of insistent texts, asking him to come home and do just that. He discovers on arriving that many in the community blame him for not saving their own loved ones, while his friend now claims that he did not send the messages. Cole then meets Coyote himself, Choch, who sets him on a path to fix something in the town, though he refuses to say what. Cole must act fast, though; his friends are being shot and the town is suffering from a mysterious illness.

First Nation culture and folklore forms the foundation of this young adult novel, author Robertson’s first in a planned series, and it is strengthened by interesting characters. Choch, a shapeshifting version of the trickster Coyote, is the most memorable. A flashy dresser who appears at inopportune times, he teases and cajoles his young charge, but also provides sporadic moments of thoughtfulness. These do not occur often enough for Cole, and his irritation at the spirit’s cryptic comments plays out in humorous dialogues that entertainingly fail to relieve his anxiety.

A powerful sense of place adds solidity to the story. Wounded Sky refers to the northern lights which appear throughout, symbols of long-healed wounds that leave scars of remembrance that are nonetheless beautiful. The author pulls these elements together with a lyrical and light writing style, the book’s strongest asset, which carries it over a few rough plot points that incorporate science fiction conspiracies which are not resolved. This is Act One, of course, so these factors should be developed as the series progresses. For now, Robertson has crafted a strong base.

Barb Riebe is a reference librarian at Billings Public Library. She has called Billings home for the last sixteen years, having happily settled in with her husband, two children, and two cats.

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Arts and Entertainment Reporter

Arts & Entertainment Reporter at The Billings Gazette.