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Literature / Race to the Sun

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Race to the Sun is a fantasy novel aimed at middle-graders, based on Navajo mythology, written by Rebecca Roanhorse. It is part of Rick Riordan Presents.

Nizhoni Begay is just your average seventh-grader. True, she is Navajo, her mother left the family when Nizhoni and her younger brother Mac were little, her father is overworked and hardly notices her, and she desperately wants to be famous at school—but then, many kids are. Oh, and she also sees monsters pretending to be normal people. Just like that man at the basketball match, who turns out to be her father's potential employer, oil magnate Mr. Charles.

The book gives examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Nizhoni is one, especially when facing monsters, as that is when her ancestral powers help her, for instance, deliver a perfect elbow blow to the face.
  • Action Mom: Nizhoni's mom left the family to fight monsters and failed, but once she is released from Lost and Found, she goes into monster-slaying action, wielding a lightning sword, nonetheless.
  • Adults Are Useless: Zig-zagged. Nizhoni's dad is pretty clueless and cares mostly about his job, and when he is kidnapped, Nizhoni knows that as a Native girl she cannot count on the police (and even if she could she knows there's no way they would believe her father was kidnapped by demons). On the other hand, other adults, like the cart lady or Spider Woman, turn out to be of great help. Then again, they are not ordinary people.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Johonaa'ei (the Sun), also called "the Merciless One" is a well-dressed Navajo man with a rather short temper who lives in an imposing mansion.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Or rather Big Sister. Nizhoni is very protective of Mac (even though he is just 10 months younger) and tries to protect him at all times.
  • Book Smart: Nizhoni's best friend Davery is a very good student, has a lot of knowledge about various topics and reads books above his (middle grade) school level. Even his magical weapon, given to him by the Sun, is a book.
  • The Bully: Adrien Cuttlebush, who for some reason has decided to turn Mac's life into hell. Which includes beating Mac up and destroying his art supplies. And then, at one point Mac uses his ancestral powers to stop Adrien and his friends.
  • Cool Sword: Nizhoni's mother gets one made by Johonaa'ei from lightning. According to its creator, "it always strikes true".
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mr. Charles is the CEO of a huge gas and oil corporation, seems to be friends with the President and his company destroys the environment (not to mention building a pipeline on Native land) and is the target of many protest actions. And he's also a man-eating monster who kidnaps gifted children to work for him.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: One of four sacred mountains of the Navajo is Dibe Nitsaa, the Mountain of the Folding Darkness, both its guardian and its herald are black—but they are protectors of the Navajo people.
  • Ecocidal Antagonist: Mr. Charles is a Corrupt Corporate Executive whose oil and gas company destroys the environment and is a target of many protests. In addition, he turns out to be a literal man-eating monster who kidnaps gifted children to work for him.
  • Energy Bow: Nizhoni gets one made of lightning. However, she still has a limited supply of arrows.
  • Face Your Fears: An element included in the trials that Nizhoni and her friends have to undergo.
  • First-Person Perspective: The story is told by Nizhoni.
  • Go to Your Room!: After she hits Mr. Charles, Nizhoni is sent to her room. Without her phone, to boot.
  • I Don't Pay You to Think: Subverted with Mr Charles and his bodyguard Ms Rose. While at one point in response to her "I thought I heard..." he tells her "I don't pay you to think", he follows it with "I pay you to know".
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Nizhoni wants to be famous. She has given up her dream of Internet fame, but when we meet her, she desperately wants to be famous at least in her school. However at the end she is ready to give up her dream to save Davery and Mac. Overlaps with I Just Want to Have Friends, as she has only one good friend and dreams of being popular.
  • Meaningful Name: "Nizhoni" means "beauty" in Navajo.
  • Magical Native American: Both Nizhoni and Mac are direct descendants of the Changing Woman, one of Navajo Holy People, which grants them magical powers needed to fight and slay monsters. But apart from that they dress and behave just like average kids and their Navajo origin is sometimes a burden.
  • Making a Splash: Mac's ancestral power is having control over water and basically anything liquid.
  • Mentor Mascot: Mr. Yazzie, a talking horned toad, who helps Nizhoni and Mac learn about their destinies and get to the House of the Sun. Overlaps with Old Master, as he keeps complaining about his old age and everyone in the know calls him "little grandpa".
  • Missing Mom: Nizhoni and Mac's mother has left her family when they were both very little as it turns out, she left to fight monsters and got stuck in one of the Sun's trials.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Discussed. When Nizhoni's father is kidnapped, she knows that calling the police is useless, as he is a Navajo man and, to make matters worse, his kidnapper is a rich white businessman.
  • Noodle Incident: We never learn what Mac did at the camp that turned Adrien Cuttlebush into his greatest enemy.
  • Only the Worthy May Pass: Because so many people would like to get help from the Sun, they have to get through four trials just to see him.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Nizhoni feels that her dad is never there for her and is positively surprised that he comes to pick her up from school after she suffers sport injury. But then, in the car, he is talking on his phone and texting all the time, anyway. And he never seems to notice that Mac is constantly bullied, even when he sports a black eye.
  • Parents in Distress: Nizhoni and Mac need to save their dad from Mr. Charles and accidentaly end up save their mom from Lost and Found.
  • Plot Coupon: Nizhoni, Mac and Davery need to collect four object from four sacred mountains to give to Spider Woman because otherwise she won't help them.
  • Poverty Food: According to Nizhoni's dad, frybread is "crisis food" and that's why he hasn't taught her how to make it. Spider Woman agrees, as this is not traditional Navajo dish, the recipe was created when the Navajo had only flour, water and baking soda. Still, they can be delicious.
  • The Power of Friendship: As the song states, Nizhoni needs to find out that she is not alone to win against monsters.
  • The Power of the Sun: Nizhoni needs to reach the House of the Sun to get weapons to fight monsters. These weapons are made by Johonaa'ei himself and are part of his powers.
  • Present Tense Narrative: The whole book is written in the present tense.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: The song that Nizhoni gets from the cart lady turns out to be a poetic—but very precise—prophecy and helps her immensely.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Monsters that Nizhoni can see all have red eyes.
  • Shapeshifting: Mr. Charles (and probably other monsters) can change form at will, so at one point he appears as Adrien Cuttlebush from school.
  • Shout-Out: When Nizhoni tells Mac they need to find Spider Woman, he thinks of Spider-Man—and later it turns out she is a fan.
  • The Smart Guy: Nizhoni's best friend Davery. He loves reading (and his father is a librarian), knows a lot about various topics, is very Internet-savvy and his magical weapon is a book of knowledge.
  • So Proud of You: Everyone is very proud of Nizhoni at the end—and her dad finally seems to notice her.
  • Struggling Single Mother: A rare male example. Nizhoni's father works a lot and is almost never there for her because he wants to be able to provide for his kids something more than bare necessities.
  • Talking Animal: Mr Yazzie, a horned toad, who is also Nizhoni's mentor. He may in fact be a spirit in the form of a horned toad, however. And then there are the heralds of the sacred mountains, who are huge talking birds.
  • Titled After the Song: One chapter has a title "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life".
  • The Trickster: According to Johonaa'ei, Nilch'i, who has probably helped Nizhoni under the guise of the cart-lady who gave her and her friends food for their journey for free, is one. He is certainly a Master of Disguise.
  • Villain in a White Suit: While Mr. Charles wears a black suit, his two bodyguards, Mr. Rock and Ms. Bird both wear similar white suits. And they are implied to be monsters, too.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Mr. Charles has blonde hair so pale that it almost looks silver.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Mr. Charles tries to kill Nizhoni, although he claims that hurting youngsters pains him.
    • It is said that Spider Woman used to eat children—but only the naughty ones. And she certainly means no harm to Nizhoni.