WE STILL BELONG, by Christine Day, Heartdrum, Aug. 1, 2023, Hardcover, $18.99 (ages 8-12)
A teen struggles to find her place in her Indigenous community and at her mostly white school in We Still Belong, a middle-grade novel by Christine Day.
Wesley is proud of the poem she wrote for Indigenous Peoples’ Day—but the reaction from a teacher makes her wonder if expressing herself is important enough. And due to the specific tribal laws of her family’s Nation, Wesley is unable to enroll in the Upper Skagit tribe and is left feeling “not Native enough.” Through the course of the novel, with the help of her family and friends, she comes to embrace her own place within the Native community. —Synopsis provided by Heartdrum
At the center of We Still Belong is Wesley, a teen who is trying to figure out all the normal teen stuff — crushes, fitting in, etc. — as well as she fits as far as her tribe is concerned. She’s a bright girl who loves gaming and has good relationships with her family members and close friend.
When a teacher tells Wesley that she should have taken a stance in her poem about Indigenous peoples rather than just celebrate them, Wesley is left dejected. She doesn’t understand why she “has to be angry or aggressive.” Why isn’t “We Still Belong” the title of her poem not good enough.
Author Christine Day does an excellent job exploring Wesley’s emotions. And it’s nice to see Wesley surrounded by a loving family and extended community.
I’m not a huge gaming fan, but Day makes that element accessible to everyone — including those with no real interest.
We Still Belong does move a bit slowly. The entire book takes place over a few days, and sometimes I found myself thinking “wait, where are we?” But overall, it’s a strong read with broad appeal despite its focus on a specific topic.
*We Still Belong is a Cybils-nominated book. This review is my opinion and not the opinion of the middle-grade fiction panel as a whole.
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