Rebecca Roanhorse’s 2019 Race to the Sun is a standalone young-adult contemporary fantasy.
Nizhoni Begay’s single father has had a string of short-term jobs, which has meant frequent moves for seventh-grader Nizhoni Begay and her brother Mac. Nizhoni knows that her dad is doing the best he can for his family, but that’s cold comfort. She has a hard time making friends and the ones she makes she loses when she leaves. Now she’s found a good friend, Davery … but another move looms.
That’s not the worst threat she faces.
Nizhoni has a knack for sensing monsters, no matter how cunningly they disguise themselves. Monsters are more common than one might expect. She has sensed a fair number but this one is worse than most.
Just as Nizhoni can see Mr. Charles for the fiend that he is, he knows that Nizhoni and Mac can see him. Mac has hidden potential; Mr. Charles has plans for him. His plans for Nizhoni are grimmer. She is a potential monster hunter and Mr. Charles has put her at the top of his kill list.
Mr. Charles may be a beast of myth and legend, but he’s also a successful businessman, the owner of Landrush Oil and Gas. Landrush offers Mr. Begay a job. Mr. Begay would prefer not to work for a company with such a deplorable environmental track record, but he has kids to support: he sees no choice but to accept.
Of course, the job offer is merely a ruse. Mr. Charles wants to get his hands on the Begay siblings so he can kill Nizhoni and take Mac for his own. The plan is a partial failure; the children elude him, but Mr. Begay does not. Now Mr. Charles has bait that will draw the children into another trap.
Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery have special gifts. They also have allies in the form of the Diné Holy People. These allies can advise, but they will not or cannot do the heavy lifting. Stopping Mr. Charles and saving their father is up to the teens.
Most of the heavy lifting is up to Nizhoni, who has gifts that make her an immediate threat to monsters. Mac’s gifts might make him more of a WMD, someone to be uncorked only on special occasions.
By targeting Nizhoni, Mr. Charles forces her to use and sharpen her skills. If he had just left her alone, she might never have realized her full potential. She could see monsters, yes, but there’s not much that she could do about them (or so she thought) while she was just a teen in a backwater high school. I think that this might be yet another example of a self-fulfilling prophecy: you see something bad coming, you try to avoid it, and your actions make it happen.
The writing is competent if not elegant. The characters are engaging; I did care about what happened to them. My major complaint was that the plot was linear and somewhat predictable. Nizhoni succeeds in part because she collects the proper plot coupons. But this is a YA novel, so a straightforward plot might be just the right thing for young readers.