by Kristen Millares Young


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The brilliance of Subduction only suggests the wonders to come. It is a good day for us when Kristen Millares Young puts pen to paper. Highly recommended.

--Luis Alberto Urrea, winner of the American Book Award, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, author of The House of Broken Angels, The Devil's Highway, Queen of America, Into the Beautiful North, The Hummingbird's Daughter.

In this commanding novel, Kristen Millares Young captures the brutality of an anthropological gaze upon a Makah community. Her complex, exquisitely shaped characters embody the calamity of intrusion and the beauty of resilience.

--Elissa Washuta, author of My Body is a Book of Rules and Starvation Mode

Young beautifully and vividly renders the Pacific Northwest, particularly the unique world of Neah Bay. Subduction is at once a thought-provoking meditation on the geography and geology of the natural world and a generous exploration of the natural shifts and movements that shape her characters.

-- Jonathan Evison, New York Times bestselling author, Lawn Boy, This is Your Life Harriet Chance!, West of Here, All About Lulu, and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

Fleeing the shattered remains of her marriage and a betrayal by her sister, in the throes of a midlife freefall, Latina anthropologist Claudia retreats from Seattle to Neah Bay, a Native American whaling village on the jagged Pacific coast. Claudia yearns to lose herself to the songs of the tribe and the secrets of her guide, a spirited hoarder named Maggie. But when, spurred by his mother's failing memory, Maggie's prodigal son Peter returns seeking answers to his father's murder, Claudia discovers in him the abandon she craves. Through the passionate and violent collision of these two outsiders, Subduction portrays not only their strange allegiance after grievous losses but also their imperfect attempts to find community on the Makah Indian Reservation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Young’s gutsy if circumscribed debut takes an outsider’s view of the Makah reservation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Forty-year-old anthropologist Claudia flees Seattle after discovering her husband’s adultery with her sister, and returns to the whaling village of Neah Bay, where she’d previously collected songs and stories from the Makah. En route to “Indian Country,” she reflects on her childhood in Mexico and compares herself to previous well-meaning but flawed interlopers who came to Neah Bay in the previous two centuries. After arriving, she meets Peter, an underwater welder in his late 30s who is returning home after years away, and the two begin an affair. In passages alternating between Claudia’s and Peter’s points of view, Young highlights the tension of Claudia’s awkward presence in Neah Bay, as she encourages a woman to pose with a mask that doesn’t belong to her, and of Peter’s return to investigate the murder of his father. Claudia’s complicated romance with Peter, as they move at cross purposes, brings her relationship with the community to an impasse, and highlights the limits of her hope for belonging. While Young diligently explores questions about cultural appropriation, in the end her tale falls short by being all about Claudia. (Apr.)

From the Publisher


With dreamlike, salt-water-laced prose that feels born of the Salish Sea, Kristen Millares Young’s Subduction lyrically examines relationships strained and forged by place and belonging. Intelligently addressing womanhood, community, lust, and loss, this is a novel as deep as it is intoxicating, as intricate as it is powerful. Like Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Subduction is a novel to be celebrated for both its poetry and wisdom.
—Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra

Kristen Millares Young’s Subduction is the powerful debut novel from a writer that comes to us fully formed. This book is as unforgettable as it is timely, a story that keeps us riveted from beginning to end, written with abundant grace and lyric intensity. Beautiful, smart, and urgent. Read this book now.
—Robert Lopez, author of Good People, Kamby Bolongo Mean River, Part of the World, All Back Full, and Asunder

Kristen Millares Young’s Subduction is a taut, atmospheric tale that gave me what I hope for in a novel: characters that I can care about, in a place that seems real, with stakes that really matter. This is an enormously impressive debut. I’ll eagerly await more from this writer.
—Steve Yarbrough: PEN/Faulkner finalist, winner of a Richard Wright Award and a California Book Award. The Unmade World, The Realm of Last Chances, The End of California, Prisoners of War.

Subduction will give you a sense of life lived in the most remote corner of the lower 48, the Makah reservation in Washington State. The ever-changing Pacific Ocean, the emerald forests, the geoduck clams, and the scruffy sea-scoured dwellings are merely the foundation of Kristen Millares Young’s suspenseful, atmospheric first novel. The characters leap off the page and into your heart. I wanted to swallow the story whole, and I was happy to know it would take time to savor it. An auspicious debut!
—Patricia Henley, National Book Award finalist, Hummingbird House, In the River Sweet, and Other Heartbreaks

“Love is a kind of home,” Kristen Millares Young writes in Subduction. But in the world of this beautifully written novel, home is also a place of secrets, murder, and loss. A tale of taking and giving, resistance and surrender, Subduction raises troubling, provocative questions about our struggle to belong.
—Samuel Ligon, Miller Cane, Among the Dead and Dreaming, Safe in Heaven Dead

Set in the Pacific Northwest, Subduction is a lyrical forest of storytelling rooted in indigenous voices and invaded by those who would steal the tongues and hearts of the ones they love while bartering and betraying the idea of belonging to a land, a birthright, and a family. When you read Kristen Millares Young’s words, you understand how it is we can steal, can betray, can love.
—Shawn Wong, Homebase and American Knees

Subduction introduces a welcome new voice in Kristen Millares Young, here telling a taut, fraught story of two people who meet and engage in circumstances that surprise. Both have lived but are seeking to live yet more fully, even as they’re beset by their pasts. Whether the way to such realization is with the other is a core part of this vividly written story. Set on Makah Nation land, part of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Subduction is a searching exploration of historic legacies in the present day. The result: a book of reckoning, full-heartedly told.
—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company

"...the book accomplishes something that only the best literature can: It asks the reader to wonder, and to reflect, and to ask crucial questions about society and identity. And it does so in a deeply entertaining and moving story." —Sarah Neilson, The Seattle Times

"...lyrical and atmospheric debut..."—Kirkus Reviews

"Subduction invites the reader into the daily life and ecology of this community with astounding accuracy and respect. From the store in town, to Hobuck Beach, Young’s delicate yet commanding grasp of place paints a believable landscape with a handful of real-to-life characters—none sensationalized nor trivialized."—Jessica Gigot, Empty Mirror

"Subduction is a marvelous collision of people and their emotional landscapes, and much like the geologic action the title refers to, this activity is messy, violent, and natural—as natural as all humans are beneath their wants and needs, their masks and their cultures. And that is the beauty of Young’s novel: while it presents us with the ongoing problematics of cultural sensitivity and awareness and agency, it also reminds us that within these zones are ordinary people, as complicated as the weather and as simple as spirit animals bearing clear messages."—Douglas Cole, Rain Taxi Review of Books

"Subduction explores legacy, cultural identity and consent through the sexual entanglement of two people trying to salvage their lives from wreckage of their own making."—Robert Lopez, from his interview with Kristen in The Believer Magazine


  • GoodReads: 52 New Books by Hispanic and Latinx Authors to Read Now
  • Vol.1 Brooklyn
  • Ms. Magazine selection for April 2020 Reads for the Rest of Us, "Feminist Know-It-All"
  • Washington Post
  • Staff pick in the Paris Review
  • Women's Review of Books
  • Crosscut
  • "The Long Fight to Decolonize Book Research: Kristen Millares Young on Learning from Makah Tradition" op-ed on LitHub
  • "31 Terrific Books Recommended By 31 Terrific Writers"
  • HipLatina's list of 15 Latinx Summer Reads to Beat the Boredom
  • Los Angeles Review
  • University of Washington Magazine
  • Excerpt in Wildness
  • Recommended in Electric Literature
  • Recommend by High Country News
  • Featured in the critical essay "Past as Place in Subduction"
  • Author readings featured in Buzzfeed
  • Author readings featured in Left Bank Books
  • Author's article featured on KUOW broadcast
  • Author's article featured on The Rumpus


  • The Millions with Kirsten Sundburg Lunstrum
  • The Rumpus with Elissa Washuta
  • Seattle Times
  • Seattle Arts and Lectures' Gabriela Denise Frank
  • The Seventh Wave
  • The Daily of University of Washington
  • Los Angeles Review of Books with Shin Yu Pai
  • Seattle Arts and Lectures Conversation: Corinne Manning, Kristen Millares Young, and E J Koh, in conversation with Paul Lisicky
  • Skylit Interview: Kristen Millares Young, Subduction
  • Vol 1. Brooklyn
  • Featured on The Stranger"A Message to the City from Kristen Millares Young"
  • Featured on Open Book on Location
  • Featured on World Wide Work
  • Kirkus Reviews

    In Young’s lyrical and atmospheric debut, two damaged outsiders, estranged from their families and cultures, struggle to discover where they really belong.

    Fleeing Seattle after her husband leaves her for her younger sister, Mexican American anthropologist Claudia, distraught and humiliated, heads to the Makah reservation at Neah Bay, “an old whaling village on the northwest tip of the lower 48.” She hopes to bury herself in work, interviewing Maggie, an elderly woman she had befriended the previous summer: “Maggie would give her what she wanted, would tell her things about spirit animals and songs that she wasn’t supposed to reveal to anyone outside her family.” But standing in her way is Maggie’s son, Peter, who has returned home to care for his mother, newly diagnosed with dementia. Initially suspicious of Claudia, he realizes he can use her to tap into Maggie’s failing memories about his father’s murder. Likewise, by helping Peter sort through a trailer’s worth of possessions Maggie has been saving for her son, Claudia can mitigate her guilt that she “was hustling a hoarder.” As the two warily collaborate, their simmering mutual attraction explodes into violent passion, although Claudia fights to reclaim her anthropological distance. When she realizes that Maggie’s hoard is not junk but gifts saved for a potlatch, or ceremonial feast, to be thrown for her son, Claudia breaks academic protocol by offering to assist with the invitations. Peter, still haunted by his father’s death, resists reconciliation. Alternating between Claudia’s and Peter’s perspectives, the author creates moving portraits of two lonely, prickly people seeking to find their places in the world after so much pain and loss. Her lush, dense prose vividly captures the beauty of the Olympic Peninsula coast, but stylistic tics such as long, convoluted sentences slow the narrative, and abrupt transitions between the past and present sometimes confuse.

    Like life, not all the issues raised in this first novel are resolved.

    Product Details

    ISBN-13: 9781597098922
    Publisher: Red Hen Press
    Publication date: 04/14/2020
    Pages: 272
    Sales rank: 255,626
    Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

    Read an Excerpt

    The shore pulled away. Froth churned from its feet to hers. The engines hummed through her bones.

    From the aft deck, Claudia looked back toward the city they made home. She searched the skyline for places they had been happy—the top of the space needle, a waterfront park, the Ferris wheel—until her westward passage split the horizon into expanses of gray, demarcated into sea and sky by hue alone.

    Puget Sound opened in fathoms below the ferry.

    Claudia left town without saying her goodbyes. Seattle was a small world. Movers must have swarmed her house to clear out Andrew’s belongings in the space of one morning. The neighbors would have seen.

    What had they seen? She couldn’t bring herself to ask whether her sister had been on site to supervise, and Claudia hid her phone in case someone felt like sending unsolicited glimpses—of Maria deciding what to take, practicing wifeliness. Slipping Andrew a kiss for courage as the first box was packed. Claudia pictured Maria’s thick curls, her narrow shoulders, her rounded hips. Birthing hips.

    The broadcaster’s voice echoed through the loudspeakers, cautioning passengers about unknown items and suspicious activity.

    It was cowardly of Andrew not to deliver the news in person. Worse still, Maria. Did they think she would handle it poorly? That she was dangerous?

    Listening to the roar of the props, Claudia saw what her fate might have been—her body lying in the bathtub, blue and bloated. Afloat. Her stomach twisted. It was more than she could take—or forgive. They know what they are doing, she thought. Yet they think I deserve it.

    Customer Reviews