By Leah Myers
Norton, 2023
Hardback: $25.95
Genre: Memoir, Native American History
Reviewed by Edward Journey

thinning blood book cover

The quiet, meditative, and occasionally fierce observations of Leah Myers in her memoir, Thinning Blood: A Memoir of Family, Myth, and Identity, make for a unique and memorable debut for the author, who currently lives in Alabama. Leah Myers’s great-grandmother, Lillian Cook Kardonsky, was a full-blooded member of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe of Natives on the Olympic Peninsula of what is now Washington State. Based on tribal blood quantum law, Leah – at one-eighth Native – is the last official member of her family’s line in the tribe.

Myers’s great-grandmother married a Russian immigrant, launching the “bleaching out” of the family’s Native culture. She taught her children “to present and speak as White as possible,” raising descendants who were less interested in preserving the tribal ways and heritage. Myers primarily grew up in Carrollton, Georgia, but has moved around the country, attended college at Arizona State University, earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans (“a great home between homes”), and spent time in Washington.

A sense of not truly belonging anywhere pervades the text. When Myers relates the many places she has lived and the times she left everything behind to move on, a friend of her fiancé comments, “You travel light; I like that.” Myers realizes that the comment turns “my lack of roots into a freedom.”

Myers uses an imagined personal totem pole to represent her maternal lineage. Her great-grandmother Lillian is the Bear, grandmother Vivian Kardonsky Croft is the Salmon, her mother Kristy Croft Myers is the Hummingbird, and the author chooses the Raven to represent herself. In each section, the totem’s symbolism is explained, Myers’s adaptation of a legend of that totem is presented, and biographical and autobiographical memory is explored.

The text is a stream of thoughts and ideas examining loss and retrieval. Myers strives to reclaim her Native heritage while frequently questioning her own authenticity and making excuses to avoid failure. She provides an insightful explanation of the Klallam language, then admits that she gets “lost in the pronunciation.” She writes:

When I hear someone move fluently through their own tribal tongue, I flinch at their
authenticity. When I watch other Natives dance in elaborate ceremonial regalia, I swallow
my awe so it can instead fester into shame.

Thinning Blood is a blunt and personal examination of identity and selfhood in prose that possesses a poetic grace. Myers’s nonlinear approach to her narrative provides asides and depth and adds to its beauty – like the fraught upstream passage of the salmon, one of her totems. A visit to the ER for a broken foot, for example, takes many narrative detours. A lengthy and analytical adult viewing of Disney’s Pocahontas, Myers’s favorite movie as a child, is punctuated with personal reminiscences and fresh recognition, as well as disgusted rejection. She quotes the movie’s line, “These White men are dangerous,” declaring it “the truest statement in the whole movie.” She provides a harrowing, but almost clinical, description of a teenage boyfriend’s attempt to kill her. After she fights him off, she gives him a ride home.

Whites are frequently referred to as “colonizers,” a word that delivers its intended sting. Myers has her own issues with being labeled a “White Indian” as a member of a tribe that is suspect and derided by some other tribes. She is amused by jokes about the many Whites who try to find a Native connection; she repeats the common trope about Whites who claim to be “one-sixteenth Cherokee since their great-great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess.” (I grew up with a version of that trope, although royalty was never involved and a DNA test later showed that any actual lineage was less than 1%.)

Thinning Blood is a beautiful book – at times troubling, at times reflective, and always clear and informative. Throughout the course of the book, Myers expresses regret about the many facets of her tribal heritage that she has missed out on or failed to learn and practice. By writing this memoir, she has surely gone far to make amends for any perceived shortcomings.

Edward Journey, a retired educator and theatre professional living in Birmingham, regularly shares his essays in the online journal “Professional Southerner” (