‘Shades of Aye’ Breaks New Ground in Native Junior Literature

Gale Courey Toensing
2/24/14

The irresistible young Native heroine in a new novel for young readers will provide a model for students who are facing the challenges of leaving home to attend college far from the comfort zone of family and friends in reservation communities.

Shades of Aye: Authenticity Will Be Tested is Michael Woestehoff’s first novel, and it is written for junior readers in middle school and up—a sparsely populated category when it comes to Native American literature.

“You know, as I was looking around, I didn't see much for Native young lit,” Woestehoff, Navajo, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We have illustrated children's books, history books, language books, and adult novels. There is a gap for students in the fifth to eighth grades who are looking for books on their level. This is when they start finding their identity, thinking about college, and I hope this book starts a conversation about what it is to be a modern Native person, a student, and one who interacts in multiple worlds and how those worlds can work best for them.”

Shades of Aye introduces Julienna Yellowhair, a beautiful, smart young Navajo woman in the last semester of her senior year at college in Flagstaff, Arizona, a border town of the Navajo Nation’s vast territory. Eager to graduate and return to her hometown of Ganado, Arizona, to work as a physical therapist, Julienna is part of a circle of Indian girlfriends who shop together, try on glam clothes together, go out to bars together and, most importantly, talk and laugh a lot. Their talk is punctuated by collective calls of “Aye!” whenever anyone says something funny—which is often. The friends, the humor and frequent trips home to Ganado have sustained Julienna so far and helped her almost fulfill her goal of completing college. But just as that goal is tantalizingly within reach, a major distraction enters Julienna’s life: Noble Yazzie, a smooth-talking, world-famous Navajo jewelry broker who has taken authentic pieces of Navajo jewelry and draped them on celebrities and the world’s elites. The book’s subtitle—Authenticity Will Be Challenged—plays out in the rest of the novel.

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