Shell Shaker

LeAnne Howe              Pages: 227              Published: 2001

The book: A Shell Shaker is a Choctaw woman who dances wearing empty turtle shells on her feet. Two murders occur (one in 1738 and another in 1991), which impact Shakbatina (a shell shaker and peace maker) and her female descendants, the women of the Billy family.
The story moves between Mississippi, where the Chocotaw originally lived, and Oklahoma, where the tribe was forcibly moved to in the 1900s.
How will Shakbatina and her descendants resolve the murders?

You might like it because: This is a marvelous story that twists and turns, moving back and forth in time and geography. It’s about the strength of women, the history we can’t escape, and the love of a mother.

What did other people say?
“LeAnne Howe has done it. Shell Shaker is an elegant, powerful and knock out story. I’m blown away.                           – Joy Harjo, Mvskoke poet and musician.

“LeAnne Howe has written a gripping and magical tale of ancient Choctaw blood lust and unbreakable family love in modern-day Oklahoma.
-Adrian C. Louis, author of Skins

Awards & Recognition:
Winner of the 2002 American Book Award

How quickly will you get into the book? The stories (there are many intertwined within this novel) begin right away. I was hooked from the first page.

You might not like it because:
As the book progresses, the story is told from many different points of view, which is the traditional Choctaw way. This style might not work for all readers.
The story contains a few violent incidents. One of these is the most impactful scene I have ever read, which is a testament to Howe’s skills as a writer. However, it’s incredibly gruesome and might be off-putting to some readers.

What might you read next?
In many interviews, Howe has been asked to name other Native American authors. Here are two you might like to try:

In one interview, she said she was reading Carter Meland’s Stories for a Lost Child.

In another, she said that Vine Deloria was someone whose writing had influenced her. You could read his book, Custer Died for your Sins.

Alternatively, stay in Oklahoma, where Shell Shaker ends and pick up Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann. It is a fictionalized account of a true story about a Midwest tribe, the Osage.

© 2018

Leave a Reply