These best books about Native Americans offer a much-needed platform for voices often silenced in American literature and history. The list includes both fiction Native American literature and non-fiction Native American books I have personally read and recommend.
Best Books About Native Americans
Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
- A 2021 Kids' Indie Next List Selection
- An Amazon Best Book of the Month for March Selection
- An Entertainment Weekly Most Anticipated Books of 2021 Selection
- A PopSugar Best March 2021 YA Book Selection
In the extremely popular Firekeeper's Daughter, a Reese's Young Adult Book Club pick, eighteen-year-old Daunis is an outsider in her hometown and the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She plans on making a fresh start at college, but she puts this on hold when family tragedy strikes.
Meanwhile, she starts to fall for the new member of her brother’s hockey team. When she witnesses a tragic murder of a friend, she realizes he may not be who she thought and is thrown into the heart of an FBI investigation of a very lethal new drug. She calls these "guy lies" -- something she has become used to experiencing.
Daunis agrees to go undercover to track down the source, but doing so continually puts her in harm's way and exposes shocking family secrets.
In this universally beloved suspense with a social conscience, she must learn what it means to be a strong Ojibwe woman.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
- New York Times bestseller
- National Book Award finalist
- A New York Times Notable Book
- Named a best book of the year by Amazon, Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, GQ, Time, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, Time Magazine, NPR, Vogue, Smithsonian, Cosmopolitan, Seattle Times, Bloomberg, Lit Hub, and Slate
Killers of the Flower Moon is one of the best Native American non-fiction books, and it's a true crime story that will shock you. During the 1920s, the richest people in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered under their land, the Osage lived largely.
Then, one by one, the members of the Osage Nation died -- or, rather, were killed off. And the family of one Osage woman became a prime target: one was shot; another was poisoned. And that's only the beginning, as more and more Osage died under mysterious circumstances. What's more, is that many of those who investigated the deaths were themselves murdered.
The newly created FBI took on the case, and former Texas Ranger Tom White tried to uncover the mystery. With an undercover team, including a Native American agent, they began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies against Native Americans in history.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
- WINNER OF THE 2021 PULITZER PRIZE FOR FICTION
- NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
- WASHINGTON POST, AMAZON, NPR, CBS SUNDAY MORNING, KIRKUS, CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY, AND GOOD HOUSEKEEPING BEST BOOK OF 2020
Based on the author's grandfather, The Night Watchman is the story of Thomas, who worked as a night watchman in 1953 at the jewel-bearing plant near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota.
He is also a Chippewa Council member, trying to understand the new “emancipation” bill heading to the floor of Congress, whose members are actually fed up with Indians. The bill is really a threat to both their land and their identity.
Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, is an independent woman who makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely supports her family. Her alcoholic father returns home and terrorizes them, while Patrice saves her pennies to find her older sister in Minneapolis. Along the way, Patrice's journey introduces her to exploitation and violence.
In the same community as Thomas and Patrice also live a cast of memorable characters that highlight the emotions and desires of Native Americans.
The Removed by Brandon Hobson
A RECOMMENDED BOOK FROM: USA Today * O, the Oprah Magazine * Entertainment Weekly * Harper's Bazaar * Buzzfeed * Washington Post * Elle * Parade * San Francisco Chronicle * Good Housekeeping * Vulture * Refinery29 * AARP * Kirkus * PopSugar * Alma * Woman's Day * Chicago Review of Books * The Millions * Biblio Lifestyle * Library Journal * Publishers Weekly * LitHub
In The Removed, it's been fifteen years since teenager Ray-Ray was killed in a police shooting, during which his family has privately grieved. What's more is that his mother, Maria, is struggling to manage her husband, Ernest's, Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, their adult daughter, Sonja, lives in solitude, and their son, Edgar, fled home and turned to drugs.
The annual family bonfire is approaching on both the Cherokee National Holiday and the anniversary of Ray-Ray’s death, and it will give them an opportunity to memorialize Ray-Ray. But, instead, they each feel the boundaries between normal life and the spirit world are blurring, as major events occur in each of their lives.
The Removed is a quick and immersive read that draws from Cherokee folklore to explore the long-standing effects of trauma and grief for each unique family member, and the meaning of home that binds them.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
- Winner of the National Book Award
- Washington Post Best Book of the Year
- A New York Times Notable Book
In The Round House, a woman living on a North Dakotan reservation is attacked in Spring 1988. She's slow to reveal the details with the police, her husband, or her son, because she is so traumatized. Her son tries desperately to heal her, but she refuses to leave her bed. So, he is thrust prematurely into the adult world.
His father, a tribal judge, endeavors for justice, while Joe sets out with his trusted friends, to get his own answers. This leads them to the Round House, a sacred place of worship for the Ojibwe. But that's only the beginning in this mysterious coming-of-age novel with cultural themes.
There There by Tommy Orange
... so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore.- There, There
- finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
- one of The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year
- winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award
- One of the Best Books of the Year: The Washington Post, NPR, Time, O, The Oprah Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, BuzzFeed, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe
There There is easily one of the best books about Native Americans. It's modern literature that uniquely tells the plight of modern, urban Native Americans, particularly in Oakland, California, through the lens of over a dozen characters dealing with issues like identity, addiction and grief. Their lives all interconnect and ultimately converge in a stunning and powerful finale at a pow-wow.
It's about the lost identities of a group of people who suffered violence and injustices that were not fully appreciated in the eyes of history.
While you won't be able to put this Native American literature book down at the end, you should be aware that this character-driven novel is very difficult to keep track of all of the characters and how their lives overlap. I started this book on audio, and while it was immersive and fascinating, it became too difficult for me to follow, so I picked up the paperback copy, and I would recommend you do the same if you read this book.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
Instant New York Times bestseller
This Tender Land is also one of the best Native American fiction books. It reminded me in ways of literature like Huck Finn, Before We Were Yours and Where the Crawdads Sing, amongst a Native American landscape.
It's the story of a rag-tag group of vagabond children in Summer 1932, along the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River. Odie O’Banion and his brother Albert were orphans sent to the harsh confines of the Lincoln Indian Training School, forced to flee after a terrible crime. Along with their friend, a mute Native American named Mose, and a broken little girl named Emmy, they head on a string of adventures towards the Mississippi, determined to find their place in the world.
Along the way, they encounter struggling farmers, traveling faith healers, displaced families, and all kinds of lost souls.
While it's not entirely a Native American story, it bears heavy Native American themes of violence and identity and is an incredibly epic adventure for truth and home on American soil that you won't soon forget. It's also one of the best books for men to read.
Two Feathers Fell From the Sky by Margaret Verble
From the Pulitzer Prize finalist, Margaret Verble
Two Feathers Fell From the Sky is set in 1926 Nashville, and it follows Two Feathers, a young Cherokee horse-diver on loan to the Glendale Park Zoo from a Wild West show. Her closest friend, Hank Crawford, a member of a high-achieving a high-achieving, land-owning Black family, loves horses almost as much as she does. Neither fit into their highly segregated society.
When disaster strikes during one of Two’s shows, strange things start to happen at the park. Apparitions appear, and then the hippo falls mysteriously ill. Meanwhile, she bonds with Clive, the zookeeper and World War I veteran, haunted by his memories of war.
The entire staff must come together to get to the bottom of the lingering spirits on this story of friendship amongst exotic animals.
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Winter Counts is a perfect Native American fiction book -- a page-turning suspense novel about drug addiction on a Native American reservation, weaving into its thrills societal and Native American commentary.
Virgil Wounded Horse is the "enforcer" on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and when heroin use rises in the reservation and affects the life of his own nephew, he enlists his ex-girlfriend to track down the source of the drugs. Along the way, he realizes that being a modern Native American comes at an incredible cost.
Winter Counts was so addictive and easy to read, and I absolutely loved the audiobook version. It's what I call a thriller with a social conscience, that will make you think long after turning the pages.
Those are the best books about Native Americans, including both fiction and non-fiction literature.