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Reviews of Bad Cree by Jessica Johns

Bad Cree

A Novel

by Jessica Johns

Bad Cree by Jessica Johns X
Bad Cree by Jessica Johns
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 272 pages

    Dec 2023, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

In this gripping, horror-laced debut, a young Cree woman's dreams lead her on a perilous journey of self-discovery that ultimately forces her to confront the toll of a legacy of violence on her family, her community and the land they call home.

When Mackenzie wakes up with a severed crow's head in her hands, she panics. Only moments earlier she had been fending off masses of birds in a snow-covered forest. In bed, when she blinks, the head disappears.

Night after night, Mackenzie's dreams return her to a memory from before her sister Sabrina's untimely death: a weekend at the family's lakefront campsite, long obscured by a fog of guilt. But when the waking world starts closing in, too—a murder of crows stalks her every move around the city, she wakes up from a dream of drowning throwing up water, and gets threatening text messages from someone claiming to be Sabrina—Mackenzie knows this is more than she can handle alone.

Traveling north to her rural hometown in Alberta, she finds her family still steeped in the same grief that she ran away to Vancouver to escape. They welcome her back, but their shaky reunion only seems to intensify her dreams—and make them more dangerous.

What really happened that night at the lake, and what did it have to do with Sabrina's death? Only a bad Cree would put their family at risk, but what if whatever has been calling Mackenzie home was already inside?

Bad Cree

Before I look down, I know it's there. The crow's head I was clutching in my dream is now in bed with me. I woke up with the weight of it in my hands, held against my chest under the covers. I can still feel its beak and feathers on my palms. The smell of pine and the tang of blood sting my nose. My pillow feels for a second like the cold, frozen ground under my cheek. I yank off my blanket, heavy like I'm pulling it back from the past, and look down to my hands, now empty. A feeling of static pulses inside them like when a dead limb fills with blood again. They are clean and dry and trembling.

Shit. Not again.

I step gingerly out of bed, as though the world in front of me might break, and turn on the light, wait for my eyes to adjust. It illuminates my blanket on the floor, the grey sheet kicked into a clump. Every breath I take is laboured, and when I blink, my dream flashes onto the back of my eyelids. Running through the woods. The snow glistening in the clearing. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. How does the book's title, Bad Cree, work in relation to its contents? If you could give the book a new title, what would it be?
  2. Grief and loss are significant themes in Bad Cree. In what ways do the characters experience grief and how does that show up in the novel? Do you think this is an accurate portrayal of the different ways of dealing with loss?
  3. Crows appear consistently throughout Bad Cree, so much so they are essentially their own characters. How do the appearance of the crows inform the mood of the novel? Does the mood they create when they appear change as the novel progresses?
  4. Bad Cree is told through the first-person perspective of Mackenzie. Because of this, we see how conflicted and guilt-ridden she feels about her ...
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BookBrowse Review


In its structure, pacing and ideas, Bad Cree is a substantial and well-built story; in the specifics of its prose, it sometimes loses flow, such as in its overstuffing of adverbial phrases between lines of dialogue and its occasional plodding description of actions. But it thrives in playful and sharp turns of phrase. In resisting simplistic, popular ideas about dreams and symbolism, Johns also resists the horror trope in which objects or creatures of terror are presented as obvious metaphors for mental illness or trauma, existential voids that need to either be filled or excised. This is evident in the novel's refutation of different ideas of "badness." As she has long avoided her familial obligations, MacKenzie struggles with the feeling that she is a "bad Cree," but she also comes to realize that badness itself is not a singular condition or something that necessarily needs to be compensated for or repaired...continued

Full Review (758 words)

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
Johns laces cryptid terror into the sense of loss that her community feels... Visceral details will have readers hanging on the edge of every chapter, waiting to see when the wheetigo will strike next. Perfect for fans of Ramona Emerson's Shutter and Stephen Graham Jones' The Only Good Indians—Johns is a writer to watch.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The novel serves as a window into a world where dreams intersect with waking reality...It works equally well as spine-tingling thriller and a touching meditation on grief.

Kirkus Reviews
A narrative that is truly chilling and suspenseful. A powerful exploration of generational trauma and an artful, affecting debut.

Library Journal
[Bad Cree] is...a story about grief and family and the lingering effects of the infringement of industrialism on native lands...When the book ends, what readers will remember most are the moments these characters shared together, playing cards and talking late into the night.

Author Blurb Eden Robinson, author of the Trickster Trilogy
Bad Cree is a masterwork of creeping tension. Wry, moody and subversive, Johns explores the power of connections, both the harm and the healing, with characters rich and warm, tangled in each other, to the land and to the supernatural. Couldn't put it down.

Author Blurb Katherena Vermette, author of The Break
With creeps that are ever-creepy and love flowing like beer at a bush party, Bad Cree is a book about the power of dreams, home and family. It reads like a tribute to the ones who came before us Lee Maracle, Jeanette Armstrong, Eden Robinson. This book is tough iskwew in flannel shirts with long unbrushed hair, just looking good. It's tea rings on Formica tables, cigarette smoke wafting through windows, and an eerie magical realism that only belongs to the bush. Full of Auntie power, Jessica Johns is really coming into her own immense storytelling ways.

Author Blurb Kristen Arnett, New York Times bestselling author of Mostly Dead Things
Bad Cree is a mesmerizing, enticing read. Jessica Johns writes the world in all its messiness and terror, while simultaneously remembering to center its tender beating heart. A book about family and foundations, but also about how the secrets we keep can knock the floor out from under us. A captivating novel from an exciting new author.

Reader Reviews

Ann E Beman

A supernatural horror thriller that explores generational trauma
In this debut supernatural thriller, a young Cree woman's dreams lead her back home, where a wheetigo (windigo) preys on the family's grief for her grandmother and her sister. Mackenzie has tried to run away from her family and their losses, but her ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Novels by Cree Writers

Jessica Johns, the author of Bad Cree, is a member of the Sucker Creek First Nation in Northern Alberta. The Cree, or ininiw, who also refer to themselves as nêhiyawak (Plains Cree), nihithaw (Woodland Cree) and nèhinaw (Swampy Cree), are the largest group of Indigenous peoples in Canada, and live in areas stretching from Alberta to Quebec. Below are a few other recent novels written by Cree authors.

A Minor Chorus coverA Minor Chorus (2022) by Billy-Ray Belcourt

Billy-Ray Belcourt, an acclaimed poet and memoirist from the Driftpile Cree Nation, published his debut novel A Minor Chorus in 2022. Like Bad Cree, A Minor Chorus features a first-person narrator who has been living in a city and returns home to rural Alberta. This unnamed main ...

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