Review: Bad Cree by Jessica Johns

Where to Buy:

Amazon, Bookshop


In this gripping debut tinged with supernatural horror, a young Cree woman’s dreams lead her on a perilous journey of self-discovery that ultimately forces her to confront the toll of a legacy of violence on her family, her community and the land they call home.

When Mackenzie wakes up with a severed crow’s head in her hands, she panics. Only moments earlier she had been fending off masses of birds in a snow-covered forest. In bed, when she blinks, the head disappears.

Night after night, Mackenzie’s dreams return her to a memory from before her sister Sabrina’s untimely death: a weekend at the family’s lakefront campsite, long obscured by a fog of guilt. But when the waking world starts closing in, too–a murder of crows stalks her every move around the city, she wakes up from a dream of drowning throwing up water, and gets threatening text messages from someone claiming to be Sabrina–Mackenzie knows this is more than she can handle alone.

Traveling north to her rural hometown in Alberta, she finds her family still steeped in the same grief that she ran away to Vancouver to escape. They welcome her back, but their shaky reunion only seems to intensify her dreams–and make them more dangerous.

What really happened that night at the lake, and what did it have to do with Sabrina’s death? Only a bad Cree would put their family at risk, but what if whatever has been calling Mackenzie home was already inside?


Bad Cree is the story of MacKenzie, a woman living in Vancouver after leaving her Cree family behind to pursue her own life. When she starts having vivid dreams and crows start to follow her everywhere, she knows that she has to go back to a small town in Alberta to find the answers. There are some things that this novel does right, but there are more things that it does wrong. 

I like that Mackenzie goes home to her family to help solve her problem and the family that help her are the women. Her sister, her cousin, her mother, and her aunts all pitch in to help Mackenzie figure out why she is having these dreams and what they mean. The men are in the house or coming home from work, but they do not count. They are not part of this story. This comradery also leads to secrets that are revealed between the women. This is a story that has deep ties to indigenous belief, superstition, and lore. The bond between the women in the house shows that they are all from the same lineage and0 that there are special powers in being Cree and in being a woman. This lesson is definitely learned by Mackenzie through her journey.

The problem is that this book is too long, even at 250 pages. It almost feels like this was a 200 page manuscript, and the publisher asked the author to add another 50 pages to the middle. The first 120 or so pages are decent, and the last sixty is where the story really starts to form. The seventy pages in the middle are forgettable except that it took forever to get through them. I struggled to finish these pages. It did not help that the writing is not too great. There are certain things Johns uses repeatedly to describe her characters and their emotions. They all “laugh slightly.” They all “gulp to breathe.” They all “laugh” again. They all “breathe” again. I am fairly certain that Mackenzie does the same thing in about six of her dreams. This really feels like an early draft of a book, and the writing is very limited. The final showdown, after 220+ pages lasts about two pages, so it is pretty disappointing, and the buildup does not seem worth it. In the end, Bad Cree feels like Jessica Johns has written a much better book about family relationships than a horror novel.

I did not hate this book, but it was hard to finish the last half. I do like that it is very much focused on the women in the story and the men are barely worth a mention, and maybe women get more value out of this prodigal daughter story. It just did not have much for me.

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