100 pages 3 hours read

Darcie Little Badger


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


Elatsoe is the first novel by Lipan Apache author Darcie Little Badger. Originally published in 2020, Elatsoe has been described as “groundbreaking,” “utterly magical,” and “a gorgeous work of art” by critics. The book received glowing reviews and was nominated for several awards. Elatsoe was a finalist for the Nebula Award, and it was the recipient of the Locus Award for Best First Novel. It is also recognized as a National Indie Bestseller. Although the book is categorized as a fantasy and mystery novel, it also borrows from the speculative fiction and noir genres.

Set in an alternative version of America full of monsters, magic, and interdimensional beings, Elatsoe follows the story of 17-year-old Ellie as she tries to uncover the truth about her cousin’s murder with the help of her best friend, her family, and her loyal ghost dog, Kirby. Elatsoe is a novel about grief, family, love, letting go, justice, revenge, honoring tradition, and empowerment. This guide references the ebook edition from the Arthur A. Levine imprint of Levine Querido.

Plot Summary

Seventeen-year-old Elatsoe, or Ellie, lives with her parents in an alternate version of America. In this America, magic, monsters, and ghosts have shaped the country, and for the Lipan Apache people, ghost-training is a long-held family tradition. Ellie is able to “wake up,” or raise ghosts from the underworld. She has brought back her loyal dog Kirby and several other animals, but she is careful to observe the most important rule of ghost-raising: never, ever, wake up human ghosts because they are highly destructive and evil.

One night, Ellie’s cousin Trevor is killed in a mysterious car accident, although the details of his death are confusing and inconsistent. That night, Trevor appears in a dream and tells Ellie that this wasn’t an accident and that he was killed by a man named Abe Allerton, who lives in a town called Willowbee. Ellie and her parents leave for South Texas to help arrange Trevor’s burial and to console his widow and infant son. Ellie wants to investigate the details of Trevor’s death and try to piece together the truth about what happened to her cousin.

With the help of her best friend Jay, Ellie learns that Abe Allerton is a respected doctor and member of the community in Willowbee. Dr. Allerton seems like the last man who would commit a murder, but as soon as he learns that Ellie and her family are investigating Trevor’s death, Allerton tries to get rid of them. He sends his vampire friends to attack Ellie and her mom, orders a fake psychic to give a false account of what happened that night, and even tries to bribe Ellie to stop snooping around town. Dr. Allerton is determined to stop the truth from coming out about what happened that night, but Ellie and Jay suspect that it has something to do with Allerton’s unusually high success rate as a doctor and the bizarre accounts of unexplained deaths around Willowbee.

Along the way, Ellie is reminded of the stories of her Six-Great-Grandmother, a gifted ghost trainer and monster hunter who lived hundreds of years ago. Six-Great was fearless, intelligent, and everything Ellie wishes she could be. She wonders if she is living up to her ancestor’s expectations, and when she accidentally takes a trip to the underworld, Ellie is reminded that her gift could lead to her demise if she isn’t careful.

While Ellie and Jay try to puzzle out Dr. Allerton’s secret, Trevor continues to appear in Ellie’s dreams. Trevor’s ghost tries to convince Ellie to set him free and wake him up so he can take his revenge on Dr. Allerton, but Ellie refuses. Trevor’s widow also tries to wake Trevor up, but she is unsuccessful. Finally, one night Trevor’s infant son Gregory accidentally raises Trevor’s ghost, and Dr. Allerton steals Trevor’s body in an attempt to cover up the evidence of his crime.

Ellie and Jay realize that Dr. Allerton has the ability to move one person’s injuries and ailments to another person, and on the night of Trevor’s death, Dr. Allerton crashed his car after drinking and driving. Trevor came across the accident and tried to help Dr. Allerton, but instead, Dr. Allerton passed his fatal injuries on to Trevor and left him to die. Trevor’s ghost is enraged and confronts Allerton at his mansion during a big party. Allerton admits to what he did but shows no remorse for his actions. Allerton and his followers have the power to relocate the town of Willowbee whenever their secret gets out, and as they prepare to relocate it once again, Ellie stops them by dragging Allerton to the underworld and leaving him there.

Kirby, however, does not come back from the underworld. Ellie is distraught, and she thinks her friend might be gone forever. However, a few weeks later, Kirby reappears carrying an unusual dog toy. Ellie realizes that the toy belonged to the dogs of her Six-Great-Grandmother, who was also named Elatsoe. Ellie feels a deep connection to her ancestor and is delighted that Kirby has returned home to her.