Darcie Little Badger Turns Our Darkest Realities Into Hopeful Fantasies

Darcie Little Badger has been shaped by stories—the stories passed down to her through generations of family members, the stories she devoured as a fantasy-obsessed kid, the stories she now writes in books for young adults. The story that gave her her title. She was born Darcie Erin Ryan—Little Badger coming, in the tradition of the Lipan Apache tribe, upon graduation from high school. “Badger” is an important figure in the tribe’s origin narrative, which says that at first, the earth was empty—and then the creatures of the world below set out to explore it. The author describes her nameake while sat on a Brooklyn park bench. “Badger is the animal person who went up to earth and was responsible enough to then go back down,” she explains, “and say, ‘Hey, y’all should go see this thing!’ ”

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Exploring the mysteries of the planet—and the beings that may exist beyond our comprehension—is what anchors Little Badger’s acclaimed young-adult fiction. Her books sink into the depths of humanity’s darkest realities—gun violence, grief, our destruction of the planet—but also imagine the spirits, ghosts and animals that could exist alongside us. Her second young-adult novel, The Snake Falls to EarthThis is a fantasy-thriller about coming of age that alternates between the perspectives of a teenage Lipan Apache girl (asexual) and a snake (a cottonmouth snake). The book, to be published Nov. 23, was long-listed for this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Like her debut book, Elatsoe which was published to fanfare in 2020, Little Badger’s new genre-bending narrative draws on her heritage and the tradition of story-telling that has informed her worldview.

Continue reading:The 100 Greatest YA Books Ever

“For Native readers, especially Lipan Apache readers, I do hope that they are able to see more of their culture than they have in the past,” says the 34-year-old author. “And for non-Native readers, I hope that they’re able to connect to this character and learn a little bit.”

Texas is home to the Lipan Apache, who have lived for many years on this land. Although Little Badger was raised in several places around the world, moving because of her father’s job, she considers Texas to be home. As a young girl, she explored the fantasies section of every local library. She wrote her first novel, a mystery of 40 pages about a murderer and an abandoned garden. The manuscript was sent to her father who, at that time, was studying English Ph.D. The publisher replied with a polite rejection letter. The letter was framing was ordered by her father. “He wanted me to see how far I would go someday,” she says, adding, “It’s good to learn as a writer you’re going to deal with rejections.”

That lesson was carried with her to Princeton College. After trying two years in a row to be accepted into the school’s creative-writing program, and being turned down both times, Little Badger pivoted to another subject that had piqued her interest: earth science.

After taking an introduction to oceanography class, she was intrigued by all of the places in the world that she didn’t know existed. Little Badger was on a research expedition to Bermuda and traveled in a small boat to the depths of the ocean. The little girl jumped into the sea, and she swam hundreds of meters above ocean floor. “It was dark underneath my feet, and I felt myself being pulled in,” she says, bright-eyed as she remembers how it felt. “Even though that was actually quite scary, it was also thrilling, because I realized I had no idea what was under my feet—and I really wanted to understand more.” She went on to earn a Ph.D. in oceanography, then took a job editing earth science papers. Her first novel was published in 2017 on her side.

Little Badger’s fascination with the natural world, particularly her study of climate science, has proved pivotal in her fiction. This is evident in The Snake Falls to EarthThe other part is in Texas near the future, where disasters like hurricanes are occurring with increasing frequency. The appearance of extreme weather is a deliberate resemblance. “It’s a real concern for young people, who have unfortunately inherited this state of the world,” Little Badger says.

She cares deeply about the challenges young people face. “Teens are intelligent, they’re emotionally complex, and they’re experiencing many things for the first time,” she says. As she ages, it becomes more difficult to write characters for adolescent teens. “I am not always up on the current terms,” she says, “but I hope my respect for them shines through.”

Little Badger will sometimes tell young writers that it is too painful to write. The advice she gives them is not to force it, especially in the wake of everything they’ve had to deal with over the past few years.

Little Badger is a writer, but the writing process was difficult for her. Snake Falls to EarthIt helped her to see how writing could be used as a means of coping with trauma. At the same time, she also sold. ElatsoeLittle Badger found out that her dad had terminal mesothelioma in the latter part of 2018. In March 2020, the condition of her father had become worse. Little Badger left her job as a secretary and went to Connecticut temporarily with her mother, her brother and sister to care for her son. She began writing. Snake Falls to Earth As her father was being treated in ICUs, they were able to continue working on the book. She was able to find moments to get away from the sorrow that had consumed her entire life by working on her book.

Continue reading:The 100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time

Although her father didn’t read much of her favorite genre while she was growing up, he always encouraged her to explore the stories she wanted to tell. “I wanted to finish it in time for him to read it, but it didn’t work out that way,” she says. After her father’s death, she completed the first draft. However, he could see the first copy of it. Elatsoe in those final months—it was one of the last times she remembers him smiling.

Even though you have written Snake Falls to EarthLittle Badger’s story is a tale of hope, adventure, and personal loss during a time of great pain and a world pandemic. This story also draws inspiration from the Lipan Apache’s origin story.

Jeremy Dennis at TIME

Protagonist Nina, living in that grim near future version of Texas, is desperate to translate a story in a language she doesn’t quite understand—one passed down from her great-great-grandmother about animal people that live on earth. The story will be lost to time if she can’t figure out how to read it. And she’s certain that the little she understands of it is true—that animal people exist. When she meets Oli, a snake-person named Oli, her theories become more solid. Oli comes from the Reflecting world, which is a magical place of monsters and spirits. He has arrived on Earth to fulfill a mission. His best friend is gravely ill, and he needs Nina’s help to save him.

Nina remains positive despite everything. She never stops searching for answers about her great-great-grandmother’s story—there’s an underlying message of hope in her determination, her belief that she can preserve something sacred.

Little Badger is also optimistic. “There’s this sense of almost fatalism, that the world is going to end,” she says. “The way I think about it is: maybe. But my responsibility is to fight for the best version of the future that I can.”


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