We Still Belong

We Still Belong cover
We Still Belong by Christine Day

by Christine Day
Heartdrum / HarperCollins, 2023
256 pages

Ages 9-12

Twelve-year-old Wesley Wilder (Upper Skagit) starts the day nervous but excited on two fronts. Her poem, “We Still Belong,” is in the school newspaper for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and she plans to ask a boy named Ryan Thomas, whom she’s gotten to know through gaming club, to the upcoming school dance. Wesley misses the opportunity to ask Ryan to the dance in order to reach out to Ella—a girl some of her classmates predicted would be the one to go with him—at a moment when the other girl is visibly upset. But it’s the reaction—and non-reaction—to her poem that’s most disappointing. For the most part, few people say anything, while her English teacher, who gives students extra credit for submitting to the school paper, says she didn’t follow his guidelines, and should have used her piece to argue a position about Indigenous Peoples’ Day in relation to Columbus Day. By the end of the school day, Wesley is feeling disheartened and discouraged. But strands of Wesley’s day come together in surprising and wonderful ways when she attends a powwow with her family that evening. This lively, swift-paced story rejects broad tropes of middle school drama in favor of moments of genuine connection, with wonderful, relatable characters in Wesley, her family members, and friends. In addition to the inclusion of gaming culture—among Wesley and her friends and online, including Native gamers—the story and author’s note offer thoughtful perspectives on Native identity.  ©2023 Cooperative Children’s Book Center