Kate’s Review: “Bad Cree”

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Book: “Bad Cree” by Jessica Johns

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, January 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

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?

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I’ve said to so many times, but we are living in a great time for horror literature. We have so many great authors out there right now, with so many awesome ideas and so many different experiences and truths, and I am hoping that we just keep getting more. The book that has reminded me of how hashtag blessed we are this time around is “Bad Cree” by Jessica Johns, the story of a Cree woman named Mackenzie who, after leaving home in the wake of older sister Sabrina’s tragic death, is drawn to return after she starts having strange dreams that she can pull things out from. I mean, come on, if that description alone hasn’t sold you, I don’t know what to tell you! And while I had a feeling that this was going to have some hard emotional beats, I wasn’t totally ready for what was to come. In a good way!

The actual horror elements in this one, supernatural wise, have some well done horror imagery and moments. They are rooted in Indigenous folklore, whether it be the powers of dreaming and melding the dream world with the corporeal world, or the spectre of the monstrous wheetigo, and the stakes are high as these Cree women need to come together to try and save themselves from the same fate as Sabrina. Johns creates some truly haunting and visceral moments in this book, and by rooting the horror within Mackenzie’s culture it makes her connections to her family members all the more important and all the more dread building as they hurtle towards danger in hopes of finding answers and safety. I loved some of the moments that Johns puts on the page, whether cold dream scapes or flashes to the past or conflicts with monsters that wish to do harm.

And it’s probably no surprise that this story is also dripping with metaphors, and Johns makes it seamless. We have a family torn apart by trauma and grief, a trauma and grief that has been direct but also handed down just by way of being an Indigenous family in a racist society. With Mackenzie fleeing her pain guilt and therein disconnecting from her roots, we have a woman who is adrift and adding to a splintering of a family line, and who is literally haunted by this. We also have the themes of the wheetigo, a cannibalistic monster that feeds upon its victims, but also serves as the way that people can be all consumed by their trauma and grief and how that can pass down through generational trauma. There are also the greater implications of monsters that take and take and take and how that can apply to Imperialism and Colonialism, which adds to the cycles of trauma (and which is why it feels especially ghoulish when this folklore is appropriated by non-Indigenous artists). It all comes together to form a very emotional horror story about the many things that haunt us.

“Bad Cree” is a well done debut from an author I am very eager to follow. Definitely seek this one out.

Rating 8: Haunting and visceral, “Bad Cree” explores a woman haunted, not only by bad dreams, but by generational trauma and grief.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bad Cree” is included on the Goodreads lists “All Indigenous Peoples List 3”, and “Horror To Look Forward To in 2023”.

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