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The Search for Cultural Identity

A review of Nick Medina’s debut novel, Sisters of the Lost Nation.

“You must learn to love yourself before you love others” has been a predominant theme in our culture for many years. In Anna Horn’s case, this message is dire. In his debut novel Sisters of the Lost Nation, Nick Medina explores the road to self-discovery within an environment of cultural and social barriers.

A trend of young women turning up missing plagues the Takoda reservation and casino in Louisiana, but it hits a little too close to home when Anna Horn’s sister, Grace, becomes the newest addition to the list. During the struggle to find herself, Anna must also channel her inner-strength, despite the degradation by her peers, to fight for justice for both her sister and the other young women on the reservation.

A rapid-fire mix of mystery, drama and mythology, Sisters of the Lost Nation blends Native American culture seamlessly into a multi-faceted murder-mystery thriller.

The novel contains multiple storylines, all tying back to Anna’s grapple with her identity, including a haunting twist on an ancient legend and the beginnings of teenage sex-trafficking in the casino’s hotel. The connection between these vastly different concepts all play a role in Anna’s journey toward finding her sister, as well as her role in the Takoda community.

Storytelling plays a significant role in Anna’s development, as the Takoda tribe highly values the legends and fables of its past. However, when the reservation’s beloved storyteller is found dead during Anna’s childhood, the worth of these stories quickly lessens without an outlet to flow through. Medina draws off of this painful loss to introduce Anna’s potential place in society, where she can fully embrace her fascination and connection with Takoda lore.

Much of the novel grapples with Anna’s alienation from her peers as well as her family and community. It is painful to read about the intense bullying she endures for her lack of femininity; however, readers emerge with a strong sense of worth being placed upon individuality and purpose in self-identification. Anna may not conform to the gender and cultural norms of her classmates outside of the reservation, but she finds that there is a place that is seemingly destined to be hers among the Takoda, who value her talents and identity beyond measure.

There are a few slow moments in this novel, but Medina compensates with a strong character-driven plot. While still significant, the events happening around Anna don’t matter nearly as much as her own narrative does in carrying the plot forward. Readers are compelled to take home the idea that without Anna, the mysteries at hand would be chalked up to nothing more than a number of nameless tragedies on the reservation. Through this, Sisters of the Lost Nation supplies the powerful narrative that embracing oneself is crucial to cultivating growth and strength.

Sisters of the Lost Nation is out April 18 and is one of our Spring Reading Picks.

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