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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize Finalist •

The gripping true story of a murder on an Indian reservation, and the unforgettable Arikara woman who becomes obsessed with solving it - an urgent work of literary journalism.

“I don’t know a more complicated, original protagonist in literature than Lissa Yellow Bird, or a more dogged reporter in American journalism than Sierra Crane Murdoch.” (William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Barbarian Days)

Winner of the Oregon Book Award • Nominated for the Edgar® Award • Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review NPRPublishers Weekly 

When Lissa Yellow Bird was released from prison in 2009, she found her home, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, transformed by the Bakken oil boom. In her absence, the landscape had been altered beyond recognition, her tribal government swayed by corporate interests, and her community burdened by a surge in violence and addiction. Three years later, when Lissa learned that a young white oil worker, Kristopher “KC” Clarke, had disappeared from his reservation worksite, she became particularly concerned. No one knew where Clarke had gone, and few people were actively looking for him.

Yellow Bird traces Lissa’s steps as she obsessively hunts for clues to Clarke’s disappearance. She navigates two worlds - that of her own tribe, changed by its newfound wealth, and that of the non-Native oilmen, down on their luck, who have come to find work on the heels of the economic recession. Her pursuit of Clarke is also a pursuit of redemption, as Lissa atones for her own crimes and reckons with generations of trauma. Yellow Bird is an exquisitely written, masterfully reported story about a search for justice and a remarkable portrait of a complex woman who is smart, funny, eloquent, compassionate, and - when it serves her cause - manipulative. Drawing on eight years of immersive investigation, Sierra Crane Murdoch has produced a profound examination of the legacy of systematic violence inflicted on a tribal nation and a tale of extraordinary healing.

©2020 Sierra Crane Murdoch (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"This book will tear your heart out. I don’t know a more complicated, original protagonist in literature than Lissa Yellow Bird, or a more dogged reporter in American journalism than Sierra Crane Murdoch. At the center of this extraordinary story is a murder mystery, which unfolds within the ongoing travesty of the Bakken oil boom, which takes place within the unending dispossession of Native Americans. The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, in North Dakota, has a stomach-turning history, and life there today as dramatized here is a haunted, unforgettable struggle, full of bleakness and courage and beautifully drawn characters." (William Finnegan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Barbarian Days)

"Sierra Crane Murdoch has written a deft, compelling account of an oil field murder and the remarkable woman who made it her business to solve it. Like the best true crime books, Yellow Bird is about much more than an act of violence. Murdoch’s careful reporting delves into the long legacies of greed and exploitation on the reservation and the oil patch, and also the moments of connection and transcendence that chip away at those systems of power. I can’t stop thinking and talking about this book." (Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites)

"This book is a detective story, and a good one, that tells what happens when rootless greed collides with rooted culture. But it’s also a classic slice of American history, and a tale of resilience in the face of remarkable trauma. Sierra Crane Murdoch is a patient, careful, and brilliant chronicler of this moment in time, a new voice who will add much to our literature in the years ahead." (Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?)

What listeners say about Yellow Bird

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Interesting story, dull narration

I was interested in learning more about Lissa Yellow Bird after hearing a story about her on NPR. I think this is the kind of book that would have been better to read. There are a lot of historical details that are good to refer back to as the story progresses. The author should have spent the money to hire an audiobook narrator. Between the vocal fry, lack of emotion, and monotone voice I had a hard time listening to this book for more than 30 minutes at a time

9 people found this helpful

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Misleading summary

I struggled to finish or even care about this book. It is not at all about a murder or the solving of it. It is a long winded, overly detailed, frankly boring history of the reservation and its people and politics. The delivery was flat.

5 people found this helpful

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Excellent book

The author did a great job with this book and this story. She did a great job not glossing over the historical context of the story and the characters. I would recommend to anyone interested in social, political, and legal issues in Indian country.

I love that she read it herself for the Audio book.

5 people found this helpful

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disappointed

podcast was very interesting and entertaining
book was incredibly boring
unorganized, hard to follow

4 people found this helpful

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Phenomenal Book

Yellow Bird has the multidimensional understanding of people and circumstances more often found in fiction. But the author presents each encounter or point of view with such skill and sensitivity that the depth resonates. So I was left with a whole new understanding Indian country, of boom and bust, and of healing yourself and carrying on. Thanks so much for this book. It is an important, pivotal work. I will be recommending it to my friends.

3 people found this helpful

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Yellow Bird

This is an important book and it’s very well written,  but the author should not have read it in her whispery, breathy soft voice.  This is true crime!  It’s not “no matter how bad they were, remember when your kids were young and caress them with your voice" although that's a small part of it - especially toward the end.   But mama/author loves her characters.  My advice is to read the print version.

3 people found this helpful

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A Fascinating and Complex Work of Journalism

I want to start out by saying that this book is excellent. While it deals with crime, it is not just a true crime story. It talks about history, about the personal experiences of the main participants in the story, but it is not just a work of history or biography. It is all of these and more.

The narrative follows the life and investigative pursuits of one Arikra Native American woman, Lissa Yellow Bird. Lissa puts to use her diverse talents and background in trying to get to the bottom of a missing person case involving a young white oil worker who disappeared from the reservation in the midst of the oil boom. Lissa's resourcefulness and considerable creativity aid her in looking for the truth about this man's fate, even though she has no personal stake in the case and did not know the man or his family. What she uncovers is like a spiderweb underlying the inner workings of the businesses, local officials, and the individuals brought together by circumstance.

Through the stories and experiences of Lissa, her family, and members of the three tribes that share the reservation, the book addresses over-arching issues, including the stamp of colonization and intergenerational trauma, poverty and economic stratification, the effects of drugs and alcohol, the role of combat-PTSD, suicide, and other mental health issues, and the complexities of law enforcement agencies and their jurisdiction over and relationship with different parts of a community.

The author herself reads the title, which not every writer can do effectively. However, I think that in this case the use of a professional voice actor would have detracted from the narration. Ms. Murdoch immersed herself in the community in order to listen to as many voices and absorb as much information as possible, and her earnest reading of the resulting text is quite fitting. Lest anyone feel that the author has overstepped by telling a part of the story of an Indigenous woman and her community, she addresses this in the afterword and discusses her methods of research and writing, as well as the heavily collaborative process of editing and rewriting with the help of Ms. Yellow Bird. She acknowledges the flaws of attempting to tell a story as an outsider. What she has written is well worth reading and listening to, and I would highly recommend this book.

2 people found this helpful

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If you want a sloppy drama queen story this is for you

Five minutes about the murder victim Clark and other victims and 14 hours of drama queen petty jealousies and whining

1 person found this helpful

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Loved this book and will recommend to others

I was surprised at the cross section of reporting, story-telling, and history in this book. I learned so much reading it but not just about what I thought the book was going to be about. I learned about be unashamedly human and I think that was my favorite part.

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Thorough but tedious

I wanted to love this book. I was initially drawn in by the storytelling and compelling characters, but felt bogged down by the tremendous amount of tedious details. Specifically, I didn’t feel that all the transcribed conversations needed to be included. While it did add some depth and nuance, it felt like hours of this story could have been omitted without influencing the readers’ experience. I actually felt that the last chapter was the strongest, and I think that’s mostly because it didn’t concern itself with recounting every possible detail. Overall, excellent journalism, but it’s challengingly dense.