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Looking for Smoke Reviewed by Ekta R. Garg of Bookpleasures.com
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Montreal, Quebec
Thursday, June 6, 2024


Ekta R. Garg

Reviewer Ekta Garg: Ektahas actively written and edited since 2005 for publications like: ThePortland Physician Scribe; the Portland Home BuildersAssociation home show magazines; ABCDlady; and TheBollywood Ticket. With an MSJ in magazine publishing fromNorthwestern University Ekta also maintains TheWrite Edge- a professional blog for her writing. In additionto her writing and editing, Ekta maintains her position as a“domestic engineer”—housewife—and enjoys being a mother totwo beautiful kids.

View all articles by Ekta R. Garg

Author: K. A. Cobell

Publisher: HarperCollinsChildren’s Books/Heartdrum

ISBN: 9780063318670

When a teen on a Montanareservation is murdered, the police focus their attention on the fouryoung people who were the last to see her. As the remaining teenagersfight against the accusations, they must also contend with thereality of the number of Indigenous women who go missing. Author K.A. Cobell leans into her own cultural heritage for her debut thatspends a little too much time on the feelings of the characters andnot enough time on the mystery in Looking for Smoke.

Mara Racette knew shewouldn’t make friends right away when her family moved to thereservation in Browning, Montana, but she also didn’t think herclassmates would go out of their way to ostracize her. Yet in thelast few months, that’s exactly what’s happened. They’ve calledher out for being only half Blackfeet and not being a part of theircommunity since the beginning. It’s bad enough that Mara’s familyhad to move from Bozeman because of an incident involving her. Now noone wants to be her friend in her new town either.

What’s worse, everyoneon the reservation is on edge after teenager Ray Anne Leroux wentmissing. It’s been three months, and the police have been draggingtheir feet on the investigation. Mara feels terrible about what theLeroux family is going through, particularly Ray Anne’s littlesister, Loren. No one has any answers, and it’s just added to thetension Mara is already experiencing at school.

On the night of atraditional Blackfeet giveaway, Loren chooses to include Mara in aceremony to honor Ray Anne. The giveaway is supposed to be a specialevening, but the event turns into a nightmare when one of Mara’sclassmates, Samantha White Tail, is found murdered. All of a sudden,the police are very interested in what’s happening on thereservation. Even with a Blackfeet officer, Jeremy Youngbull, on theforce, Mara senses the unease among the members of the community. 

Youngbull and hisassociates turn their attention on the last people to see Samantha.That means Mara and Loren along with their peers, Brody and Eli FirstKill, are on the shortlist of persons of interest. The police startasking uncomfortable questions, and Mara watches as Loren and theothers—kids who have grown up together—start becoming suspicious,questioning lifelong friendships and their connections.

Distrust sets in among theresident teens, and Mara gets caught up in the swirl of doubt thatcreates a tornado of emotions. Loren becomes determined to find outwhat happened to her sister and why Samantha died. Brody wants toprotect his older brother from any police involvement at any cost.Eli’s commitment to his younger sister means he’s keeping secretsfrom everyone. With the police hounding them all, Mara keeps hopingthe police will focus on doing their job—catching Samantha’smurderer—so life can start resembling something like normal.

Author K. A. Cobell bringsher personal experience as a member of the Blackfeet nation to herdebut novel. The setting and the cultural aspects of the book ringwith authenticity. The reservation feels lived in and like a realplace that readers could visit with the turn of a page.

The book’s weaknesscomes in its characters. Cobell gives her readers five point-of-viewcharacters to follow, and beyond the first few pages all of thecharacters sound the same. Chapters have the characters’ names astitles, but even with that distinction and a timestamp at the startof each one readers will find the story progressing as if a singlecharacter were telling it.

The characters spend aninordinate amount of time describing their feelings, which slows downthe pace of the book dramatically. It isn’t until about two-thirdsof the way through, when more information about Samantha’s murdercomes to light, that the pacing picks up. Some readers may not feelcompelled to stay with the book by then, which is a shame becauseCobell is using the book to draw attention to an important issue: thehigh rate of murder and disappearances of Indigenous women.

For a first novel,however, Cobell writes with a reassurance and skill that promisesmore gripping books to come. Those who would like a primer in theculture of the Blackfeet nation might want to check this out. Irecommend readers Borrow Looking for Smoke by K. A. Cobell.

 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

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