cover image Healer of the Water Monster

Healer of the Water Monster

Brian Young. Heartdrum, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-299040-2

This excellently wrought middle grade debut by Young (who is Diné/Navajo) centers 11-year-old Nathan Todacheenie, a Diné boy who, seeking to escape a vacation with his father and his father’s girlfriend, ends up in a world of tradition and magic. At book’s start, Nathan is being dropped off with his shinálí, called Nali for short; though there’s no running water or electricity, her mobile home is on his beloved Dinetah/Diné homelands. Though Nathan doesn’t look forward to a summer of chopping wood and zero phone reception, he does adore Nali, who has worked for years to keep her allotment of land and her traditions. When Nathan wanders into the desert in pursuit of the otherworldly horned toad who’s filching corn seeds from Nathan’s school experiment, he ends up on a quest to enter the Third World and save the Water Monster, a Holy Being that has been poisoned by radiation, as well as his uncle Jet, who has returned from military service in desperate need of a traditional ceremony that he doesn’t want. Gentle, complex characters and flawed, loving human relationships lend depth to Young’s worlds-spanning novel. Ages 8–12. Agent: Dan Mandel, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (May)