Bad Cree

Jessica Johns

Bad Cree
Scribe Publications
31 January 2023

Bad Cree

Jessica Johns

In this gripping debut, 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 - crows stalk her every move around the city; she gets threatening text messages from someone claiming to be Sabrina - Mackenzie knows this is more than she can handle alone.

Travelling 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 her?


Mackenzie wakes from her nightmare holding the severed head of a crow. Previously she’d only brought back tree branches, and they’d immediately vanished. Mackenzie’s dreams become more frequent and eventually the horror spills over into her waking life. Crows follow her every move, and someone claiming to be her dead sister, Sabrina, starts sending her text messages. When she wakes up after nearly drowning, Mackenzie makes the long trip back home for help. But once she’s back in her childhood home her dreams only become worse; she’s returned over and over to the same evening, walking back home from a party with her sisters and cousin.

Jessica Johns weaves Native American mythology and classic horror themes together seamlessly to build a captivating and thrilling story of family, love, and grief. Mackenzie left home after her grandmother – Kokum – died, and didn’t return when Sabrina died. Her shame at having to ask her family for help now that she’s in trouble is palpable; only a bad Cree would bring danger to her loved ones. But once she’s home and the women of her family realise she’s in danger, she discovers that she’s not the only woman in her family whose dreams are something more.

There is something gutting and beautiful about Johns’ writing about grief. While she left to escape the suffocating sadness that enveloped her family after Kokum died, Mackenzie realises that she’d left all the good things behind, too. Loss and mourning are written onto the very fabric of her being, from her ancestors being forcibly removed from their land and homes, to her grandparents being taken and placed in residential schools, and Sabrina’s untimely death. One of Bad Cree’s greatest powers is its effortless ability to show that not all hauntings are bad; we can be haunted by the ones we love and find comfort and solace in that.

Bad Cree is truly a horror novel: the monster is real, and it must be defeated. But it’s so much more than a simple horror novel. Or, perhaps more precisely, there is more than one monster in this novel, but only one can be defeated. The characters – and by extension, the reader – must find a way to live with the rest.

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