Review: Wabanaki Blues by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel

Reviewed by Sandra Ruttan

“He has burtterscotch bangs, licorice eyes, a switchblade smirk, and he wears pastel polos that seem to make him glow. I have mudwood eyes, treebark hair, and I actually wear black band tee shirts that turn me into my own shadow.”

Now, that’s a way to write a description. I was actually hooked from the opening line of Wabanaki Blues.

“Some days, you appreciate the dead; others, you don’t dare think about them.”

51c0jjnupzl-_sy346_Wabanaki Blues is a couple years old, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out, particularly if you’re interested in a coming-of-age story about a young Native girl who talks to the dead and is struggling to find her place. She’s descended from two different tribes and she also has French Canadian ancestry. Mona also grew up in the city – Hartford – and has a lot to learn about her ancestors and their beliefs.

On the last day of school Mona’s parents inform her she’ll be heading away the next day to stay with her grandfather – Grumps. She’s dropped in the middle of the woods by her absentee parents and left to find her way to her grandfather’s cabin on her own.

Before she left school, however, she was visited by a new ghost that has joined her for her journey. Mia Delaney died in her school’s basement years before and her murder was never solved. Now Mia is visiting Mona. Mona would rather stick to communing with her grandmother’s spirit but Mia has other plans.

The one thing Mona knows she has going for her is her musical talent. She’s a great guitar player and her musical abilities will place her between two young men who are vying for her attention, and pulling her in different directions. Meanwhile, people in Mona’s family seem to think she has some special purpose to fulfill and she’s frustrated by the persistence of Mia’s spirit, who seems determined not to rest until Mona finds out the truth about who killed her.

In some respects this book is less about solving a murder and more about a young person finding their way in the world and making sense of their destiny. The threads of the mystery are woven throughout, along with the mystery of Mona LaPierre and her future. She’s a great character who comes alive early on and has a lot of spunk and integrity. It’s possible this book would have been more appropriate if targeted at YA readers but I was hooked from the start and the story never let me go. There’s an added plus of getting some authentic insights about the Abanaki and Mohegan tribes and their beliefs and customs. The author is the Mohegan Indian Tribe Medicine Woman and she infuses interesting details throughout the story.

I can’t believe I didn’t read this book until now. I want more from this author and will be seeking out her other works.

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