Bad Cree – Jessica Johns

This is just the beginning of the incredible debuts for 2023, and if this is any indication of how the rest of the year will be, then I have high hopes!

Thanks to Doubleday Books for the gifted copy in exchange for my honest review

BAD CREE – Jessica Johns (Released January 10th, 2023)

Book Description:

In this gripping debut tinged with supernatural horror, a young Cree woman’s dreams lead her on a perilous journey of self-discovery that ultimately forces her to confront the toll of a legacy of violence on her family, her community and the land they call home.

When Mackenzie wakes up with a severed crow’s head in her hands, she panics. Only moments earlier she had been fending off masses of birds in a snow-covered forest. In bed, when she blinks, the head disappears.

Night after night, Mackenzie’s dreams return her to a memory from before her sister Sabrina’s untimely death: a weekend at the family’s lakefront campsite, long obscured by a fog of guilt. But when the waking world starts closing in, too–a murder of crows stalks her every move around the city, she wakes up from a dream of drowning throwing up water, and gets threatening text messages from someone claiming to be Sabrina–Mackenzie knows this is more than she can handle alone.

Traveling north to her rural hometown in Alberta, she finds her family still steeped in the same grief that she ran away to Vancouver to escape. They welcome her back, but their shaky reunion only seems to intensify her dreams–and make them more dangerous.

What really happened that night at the lake, and what did it have to do with Sabrina’s death? Only a bad Cree would put their family at risk, but what if whatever has been calling Mackenzie home was already inside?

My Thoughts: 4/5 stars

Talk about a stunning and mesmerizing debut! This book had me from the beginning – it’s a slower building read but the atmosphere is what pulled me in. There’s just something about the eerie books lately that I’m loving. To say I’m shocked that BAD CREE is Jessica Johns’s debut novel would be an understatement. She already has such a unique and strong voice in her writing style that I’m anxiously waiting for her next release (hopefully there will be one sooner rather than later).

Here we have a more character driven novel as opposed to plot driven. When every character comes to life and jumps off the page, then you know you have something special. This supernatural horror, at its core, is focused on the Cree family dynamics and how this has an impact on our main character. I loved the inclusion of some Cree words throughout the book. If that concerns you, don’t worry, the author includes enough context to where it was fairly easy to figure out their meaning (plus, the internet does exist). Overall, a book that I was thoroughly invested in and I was hooked from start to finish. Highly recommend!

I do want to add in – that something that will forever irritate me is when I see reviews from readers that make complaints about other languages added into the book (something as small as a word or two) or pronouns being used because “it gets confusing”. This is a prime example of why it is so important to have Own Voice reviewers for books like this one. Whenever I finish up a book I like to scroll through other reviews and see what others have said (specifically the low rated ones because I’m curious what didn’t work for them). One review that caught my eye was complaining about how the few Cree words sprinkled throughout the book “really took them out of it because they weren’t sure how to pronounce it” and that the use of the they/them pronouns for our nonbinary character caused a lot of confusion. I love seeing more representation in books because it gives us a chance to see through the eyes of someone having a completely different life experience than our own. Reviews complaining about this, from reviewers that the book isn’t written for, ultimately can hurt the book’s success in the end. So please, keep that in mind when hearing things about new releases or even older ones. Just because I, a white woman, can’t personally relate to a nonbinary Cree character, doesn’t mean there isn’t another reader out there that perfectly identifies with them and will have their story resonate.

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