Advance Book Reviews: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Thank you to Netgalley for a surprise gifting of this ARC for advance review!

This book earns a solid four stars for me, with several aspects rounding out what was a refreshing take on the eye for an eye proverb – literally at times.

Let me start with the highlights of this book, for this reader: females took charge of this story in a way completely unexpected after the summary and the first forty percent or so of the book. I was very surprised, and happy to be so in the face of what I was afraid would be a cringey, male-focused plot. Insightful cultural musings and commentary are introduced through each character’s perspective; their respective battles with native identity in face of modern times and struggle were poetic and thought-provoking for me as an outsider to read. There was a bit of spooky mythology, but I enjoyed how it was almost insidious, presented in a way that didn’t paint out in all-caps the Native American lore – rather, the universal concepts of guilt, revenge, and motherly protectiveness, relatable for any reader, emerged tinged with some truly haunting imagery. The blunt, gritty language surrounding the violence on-page also served to ground the otherwise more fantastical aspects of the plot, and it all just worked.

If I had to pinpoint some parts I enjoyed less, it would mainly be the details – violence against animals, which is of course intrinsic to the plot and the book would cease to exist without it – and some of the gritter depictions of gore and violence. I admittedly watch more horror movies than I read horror novels, and the, uh, visceral language was at times a lot to take in. The unsettling aspects made an impact, though, and that in itself deserves acclaim. There was also a lot of basketball talk, most of which went completely over my un-sportsman head – until the end, where a simple round of basketball becomes so much more than dunking a ball in a net. Speaking of that ending…

While the first few acts were interesting through a social commentary lens, parts admittedly dragged a bit for me, but the final act was incredible, absolutely redeeming the rest. It was reminiscent of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon if I had to make a comparison, but I enjoyed this book more than I’ve ever enjoyed a King. A new voice in horror for me, Stephen Graham Jones crafted a unique spin on the final girl trope and a poignant final twenty percent of the book, managing to keep that large a portion suspenseful, yet simultaneously slow-burning?

Finally, I just have to applaud Graham Jones for everything he fit into a book that wasn’t a thousand pages long. Insight into the modern struggles between culture and self for Native Americans, female characters completely owning the males on-page, and some deeply unsettling imagery all painted a completely satisfying picture for this reader.

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