We Still Belong

HarperCollins/Heartdrum. Aug. 2023. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063064560.
Gr 5 Up–Wesley Wilder, whose family are members of the Upper Skagit Tribe, is about to have a big day. Not only is it Indigenous People’s Day, but her poem celebrating the occasion has been published in the school newspaper and will be discussed in her seventh grade English class. She has also prepared the perfect card referencing her favorite online game to ask blond-haired, green-eyed, suntanned, good-smelling Ryan to the school dance. The school day does not go according to plan, and though comforted by her best friend Hanan, she arrives home in tears. Things only get worse as her grandpa and mom have a fight about her job, and Wesley learns her aunt and uncle might move out of the house with her baby cousin. In the midst of all this, Wesley makes a new friend and by the time the family arrives at the local powwow, she is looking forward to the dancing and food. Her day has turned completely around and ends on the highest note. Wesley is a believable seventh grader who struggles with family, social, and identity issues as an Indigenous student in Washington state. All of that and more happening in just one day might stretch believability, but there is enough background from past scenes to provide context, and readers will get a well-rounded view of her life. There is also context of Upper Skagit tribal culture and politics to provide even unfamiliar readers an understanding of this central theme. The text realistically touches on discrimination by dismissal, lack of understanding, and complete ignorance, encouraging tweens to consider why Wesley had to write a poem called “We Still Belong.”
VERDICT A creative peek into the life of a relatable gamer girl who is finding her place in the social and emotional world of middle school while dealing with the ways Indigenous peoples are ignored and celebrated.

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