My debut novel Subduction is a lyric retelling of the troubled history of encounter in the Americas. Named a staff pick by The Paris Review, Subduction won silver Nautilus and IPPY awards. Shortlisted for a VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, Subduction was also finalist for two International Latino Book Awards and Foreword Indies Book of the Year.
Called one of “the year’s best books” by Electric Literature, Subduction is available wherever books are sold online, but please buy my debut directly from an indie bookstore near you. I am happy to sign and personalize orders from Elliott Bay Book Co., which made my “cymbal clash of a debut” a staff pick, if you request a signed copy in the online order form.
Fleeing the shattered remains of her marriage and treachery by her sister, a Latina anthropologist named Claudia takes refuge in Neah Bay, a Makah whaling village on the jagged Pacific coast. Claudia yearns to lose herself to the songs of the tribe and the secrets of a spirited hoarder named Maggie. Instead, she stumbles into Maggie’s son Peter, who, spurred by his mother’s failing memory, has returned seeking answers to his father’s murder. Claudia helps Peter’s family convey a legacy long delayed by that death, but her presence, echoing centuries of fraught contact with Indigenous peoples, brings lasting change and real damage.
Through the brutal and ardent collision of two outsiders, Subduction portrays not only their strange allegiance after grievous losses but also their shared hope to find community. An intimate tale of stunning betrayals, Subduction bears witness to the power of stories to disrupt – and to heal.
Reviews & Conversations
“At its heart, Subduction is all about stories — the stories that constitute personal, family and cultural identity and, perhaps more important here, the stories that people tell, about themselves and to themselves, to make life meaningful and livable…there are passages of quiet beauty, deep emotion and sharp observation.”
in The Houston Chronicle, The San Antonio Express-News, The Buffalo News & The Borneo Bulletin
“The title of the book refers to the geological phenomenon of one tectonic plate sinking under the influence of another, during which both subsumed and overriding plates are wracked by distortion and disruption. In Young’s novel, the answer to which is which is left beautifully unclear.”
— The Paris Review staff pick
“The convergence of Claudia and Peter in Neah Bay is the primary fault line of Subduction, the brilliant debut novel from Seattle writer, educator and investigative journalist Kristen Millares Young. But the ripple effects are many, and 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.”
“Gorgeously, toughly written, this book dares to be open-ended yet leaves readers with a satisfying sense of how life really unfolds. Cultural clash matters here, but personal differences and desires even more. For any fiction reader looking beyond the obvious.”
— Library Journal, starred review
“In this utterly unique and important first novel, Young examines themes of love, intrusion, loss, community and trust against a backdrop of a Makah reservation in the Pacific Northwest.”
— Ms. Magazine named SUBDUCTION a top 2020 Feminist Book
“Subduction is a gritty novel in which floundering people find hope and understanding where they least expect it.”
— Foreword Reviews five star review
“Young’s debut novel is a spiraling exploration into the complexities of betrayal and uncertainty, scattered like loose rubble beneath one’s feet…Subduction’s plot proceeds with the forward motion of a river’s flow, at times gentle and meandering, then suddenly voracious, even dangerous. Like the Pacific Northwest landscape Young describes, the romantic relationship that sparks between Claudia and Peter is dark and mystical, a connection forged from the seed of desperation and unimaginable pain, scattered with moments of unexpected sunshine.”
— The Rumpus review
“It wasn’t through luck, or through basic attunement to the human condition, that Kristen Millares Young, a non-Native writer, created characters that rang so true for me, a Cowlitz (Indigenous, though, I must be clear, non-Makah) academic. She achieved this effect by putting time into making relationships…Subduction is the result of deep listening to others and to the writer’s own process, and of letting something take as long as it takes.”
— The Rumpus conversation with Elissa Washuta
“I wanted to swallow the story whole.”
— BOMB Magazine conversation with Patricia Henley
“What follows is a haunting work about intimacy, tradition, and trust — and a thoroughly lived-in portrait of a place and a community.”
— Vol. I Brooklyn conversation with Tobias Carroll
“full of beautiful and lyrical prose grounded in the land and seascape of the Northwest coast…if you’re nerdy about place-based writing and like to give the field of anthropology the side-eye, this is a book for you.”
“Kristen Millares Young’s first book is about family ties, bent but not broken, and what time forgets and forgives.”
“In Young’s lyrical and atmospheric debut, two damaged outsiders, estranged from their families and cultures, struggle to discover where they really belong.”
“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.”
— The Believer conversation with Robert Lopez
“Subduction portrays the complex experience of racial grief that results from being severed from our cultural identities. It is messy to find human connection as a cultural outsider marred by the complexities of betrayal. With Subduction, veteran investigative journalist Young takes on the ethics of storytelling across racial identities.”
— Los Angeles Review of Books conversation with Shin Yu Pai
“a human story of need and loss and recovery…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.”
“It’s a book, like its name suggests, about powerful frictions. About sex and race and culture and nature and memory. About the past sliding beneath the present, until every so often things start to tremble. But it’s also about stories—who tells them and how.”
— Seattle Met put SUBDUCTION on its essential Seattle reading list
“It is also an homage to the resiliency of place-based people. Transcending the cultural facets of this unique story, one can’t help but share in a collective feeling of hope after reading this novel. Not blind, ecstatic, hope, but real confidence that as one life fades away another, possibly better, version of ourselves is possible. We are also reminded, in this remote and mystical corner, that the living, breathing world around may hold all the answers we need.”
“In the acknowledgments to the novel, Young opens with the thought that “I write to improve the quality of ideas available to our society” and ends with the idea that “To love a writer is no easy thing.” Writers tell the stories, keep one eye on the past and one eye on the story they weave to connect themselves and others to the painful pasts that not everyone can escape.”
“Part anthropological study, part philosophical interrogation, and all parts brilliant (actionable) storytelling: an examination of what happens when immigrants become settlers, and native land dwellers become itinerant travelers.”
— Seventh Wave Magazine conversation with Joyce Chen
“This novel reminds me of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, particularly in how its imagery is both evocative of this rich, watery Northwest location (Subduction on the sea, Housekeeping inland)…breathtaking sentences throughout.”
—Moss conversation with Sharma Shields
“The pulse of our conversation kept returning to community, connections, voices. Afterward, I kept thinking how every story is really an origin story.”
— Seattle Arts & Lectures conversation with Gabriela Denise Frank
“Subduction is her debut novel, but it’s clear from reading it that Young is already a master of the craft.”
— Cascadia Magazine
“Young sets her story — featuring betrayal, murder, ancient legacies and steamy bad-idea sex — on the Makah Indian Reservation at Neah Bay, where a Latina anthropologist has fled her own culture to embed herself in another. Young’s poetic language evokes this damp Northwest place so vividly that moss seems to sprout from the pages.”
“Precisely as in real life, Subduction and its characters navigate complicated truths that often don’t settle easily into alignment with everyday reality.”
— The Nervous Breakdown conversation with Margaret Malone
“A collision of cultures and motives as Claudia and Peter use each other for their own gain, Peter to learn about his father and Claudia to learn details of Makah culture not meant for outsiders. Both are dealing with a sense of loss and displacement in their lives; their characters’ motivations feel questionable, disturbing, and incredibly real.”
“Young’s prose feels effortless.”
“Her fiction is well-observed and immersive, as you can see in this excerpt.”
— The Stranger
In The Millions, Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum and I exchanged ideas about storytelling, motherhood, civic engagement and the canon. And finally, here’s “What to Read When You Don’t Know If You Can Go Home Again,” a Subduction-related reading list in The Rumpus.
Podcasts and Visual Art
“She is an exceptionally eloquent and intelligent person. I think you’re going to enjoy this conversation.”
If you are a fan of podcasts, please listen to these wide-ranging discussions about Subduction: New York State Writers Institute, Otherppl, a four episode series from Literally Literary, QWERTY, In the Atelier, Sorry to Podcast This, Skylight Books, Fierce Womxn Writing and New Books Network
Kevin Harvey made this beautiful Subduction trailer:
“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, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The House of Broken Angels, The Hummingbird’s Daughter, The Devil’s Highway and Nobody’s Son, among many others.
“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 (Cowlitz), author of White Magic, 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 of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.
“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, winner of a Washington state Book Award for The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac.
“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 A Better Class of People and Dispatches from Puerto Nowhere
“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 with stakes that really matter. This is an enormously impressive debut. I’ll eagerly await more from this writer.”
—Steve Yarbrough, PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist, winner of a Richard Wright Award and a California Book Award, author of The Unmade World, The Realm of Last Chances, The End of California, Prisoners of War.
“‘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, author of Miller Cane, Wonderland and Safe in Heaven Dead
“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 seascoured 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, author of Hummingbird House and In The River Sweet
“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, author of 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
Listen to a brief interview and reading here. Excerpts from Subduction have appeared in wildness of Platypus Press, City Arts Magazine, and Pacifica Literary Review, as well as Indomitable/Indomables: A multigenre Chicanx/Latinx Women’s Anthology (ed. Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs and Cristina Herrera, San Diego State University Press), Jack Straw Writers Anthology and Shake the Tree, Vol. II.
© 2021 Kristen Millares Young.