A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

A gorgeously told story that highlights how our environmental crisis impacts the world we see and the one beyond our imagination and how friends and family can come together to save each other.


SYNOPSIS

Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. She’s always felt there was something more out there. She still believes in the old stories.

Oli is a cottonmouth kid, from the land of spirits and monsters. Like all cottonmouths, he’s been cast from home. He’s found a new one on the banks of the bottomless lake.

Nina and Oli have no idea the other exists. But a catastrophic event on Earth, and a strange sickness that befalls Oli’s best friend, will drive their worlds together in ways they haven’t been in centuries.

And there are some who will kill to keep them apart.

Darcie Little Badger introduced herself to the world with Elatsoe. In A Snake Falls to Earth, she draws on traditional Lipan Apache storytelling structure to weave another unforgettable tale of monsters, magic, and family. It is not to be missed. from Goodreads.


MY THOUGHTS

I took this book with me on my last camping trip of the year. A frost popped up suddenly and I spend the whole weekend bundled up or sitting so close to the fire I actually managed to catch my shoes on fire (briefly). The parallels between the importance of the environment and knowledge of old stories felt extra special because I was reading it outside. The story wrapped itself around my heart and stayed there ever since.

Author Darcie Little Badger has said, and it wildly publicized, that this book is draws on traditional Lipan Apache storytelling. I have looked high and low for what this means and finally found an interview with the author from Princeton Alumni Weekly where she was asked what, specifically, is Lipan Apache storytelling.

“…my mother would tell me Lipan stories, and these are stories that I really — I maybe found a couple of them written down, but most of them aren’t really written down out there because they were told through that oral storytelling tradition. And a lot of them involve fun characters, especially Coyote. She told me a lot of Coyote stories, and they’d go on adventures, and it just inspired my imagination so much hearing these. 

So in A Snake Falls to Earth, Oli, this cottonmouth spirit character, a lot of the fantasy world that he lives in, and a lot of structures of his chapters, are inspired by those stories I heard growing up that would involve these animal people with interesting personalities. But even — like in Elatsoe, for Ellie, a lot of the important stories involve her Six-Great-Grandmother and the cool things that she did a long time ago. And in a way, that reflects just the importance of stories in conveying history. Like, my history, but the history of other indigenous peoples. You don’t always find those in the history textbooks. I can’t say I went to high school in Texas and — Texas is part of our homeland. We’re a state-recognized tribe in Texas, and I learned nothing about the Lipan people. But I knew our history just because I’d heard it from my mother and actually other Lipan elders and knowledgeable people who I knew. And that is important.”

Darcy Little Badger from Princeton Alumni Weekly

What her answer helped me understand is that A Snake Falls to Earth is not so much built on the way stories are told by the Lipan Apache, but that the book draws on the actually oral stories that were told from generation to generation of Lipan Apache people. This both fascinates me and makes me more curious to learn more. One of my favorite things that books can do is spark an interest and I find myself determined to see what else I can learn about this specific tribe.

The story itself is slow building. The reader meets Nina in her great-grandmother’s hospital room and she is told to “Remember our History.” Nina tries, but the historical impact of having to hide your culture or being forced to assimilate continues to impact generations of Indigenous People and Nina is no exception. Next introduced is Oli, a cottonmouth snake who must leave home as all his siblings have before him. And, while Oli lives in the land of spirits and monsters, soon his world and Nina’s are running into each other. The whole book is told from both of their perspectives and I think the changes in perspective kept the story moving along in a way that a single narration would not.

This story is beautiful. Like many beautiful things, the loveliness of the story is in the small subtle changes. This is not an action packed drama or a book that provides incredible character development. This story peels back the layers that separate myth and reality until we can see how they can sit side by side and admire them both.

I do wonder, though, if I hadn’t been outside while reading this book if I would have felt differently about the story. The environmental impact of climate change is another main character in the book, impacting both the world of myths and the mirror world. As I sat there, out in the freezing woods in Illinois, I couldn’t help but feel connected to my environment and, tangentially, the people around the world who were suffering due to environmental changes. There I was complaining about the cold, on my vacation no less, when people’s homes were lost to them from floods.

Even though the book has stayed with me since I finished it, there are things that I wish were tighter and more cohesive. There are a lot of characters and side plots in this book that I would have enjoyed more if they were peeled away and the main story was more finely tuned. However, from the small amount of Indigenous Myths that I have read, this might be a stylistic choice to demonstrate a cultural point that I do not understand. Whatever the reason, bring a real intention to finish this book and you will not regret it.


Tell me, please! Does your reading environment impact your enjoyment of a book?


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