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A Novel

Read by Jade Wheeler / Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles


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About The Book


“An extraordinary novel. A coming-of-age-story you will get lost in.” —Fredrik Backman, internationally bestselling author of The Winners

Part coming-of-age novel, part sweeping family saga, and part love song to a disappearing natural world, Stolen is the internationally bestselling and award-winning debut novel about a young Sámi girl and her struggle to defend her family’s reindeer herd and their traditional way of life—for readers of Katherena Vermette and Michelle Good.

It is winter, north of the Arctic Circle. A few hours of pale light is all the sun has to offer before the landscape is once more enveloped in complete darkness. This is Sápmi, land of the Sámi, Scandinavia’s Indigenous people.

Nine-year-old Elsa is the daughter of Sámi reindeer herders. Her community is under constant threat—from the Swedish population who don’t always value the Sámi way of life, from the government that wants to claim their land for mining, and from violent poachers who slaughter their reindeer for sport and for sale on the black market.

One morning, when Elsa goes skiing alone, she witnesses a man brutally killing her beloved reindeer calf. Elsa is terrified by what she sees. Fearing for her own life and for the lives of her family members, she remains silent.

Ten years pass, and Elsa is now trying to claim a role for herself in her community, where male elders expect young women to know their place. Meanwhile, the hostility toward the Sámi continues to escalate, and the police won’t do anything to protect them. When Elsa becomes the target of the man who killed her reindeer calf all those years ago, something inside of her breaks. The guilt, fear, and anger she’s been carrying since childhood come crashing over her, leading to a final catastrophic confrontation.

Told in three parts, Stolen is a powerful, propulsive, and cinematic novel about a courageous young Sámi woman struggling to defend her Indigenous heritage against the cruelty of the modern world for justice and for the future of her people.


Chapter One: Okta CHAPTER ONE Okta
Elsa didn’t turn around. She straightened her spine and concentrated on finding her rhythm, but still she had to glance at her skis to make sure they stayed in the tracks. It was a little too dark to head out, but she was so eager.

Her cheeks were windburnt. From the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of her dark hair sticking out from beneath her hat and turning silvery gray with frost. Her eyelashes had changed color too, and she could feel the cold moisture when she blinked. It was like she was becoming a different person.

The lake was crisscrossed with snowmobile tracks leading home and away. To neighbors and cousins. To the reindeer corral. She followed the widest track. She’d found her rhythm, and her skis swished beneath her. She was nine years old. A big girl now. With skis of her own, not hand-me-downs from Mattias.

She poled onward, her arms strong and powerful, with each glide long. She knew the house would soon be a tiny dot behind her. The lake gave way to forest, but she wasn’t afraid. She was never afraid, because she knew exactly where she was and could always find her way home. She didn’t usually go beyond the lake. But now she was big.

It was early January, so the sun had found its way back, but it hardly rose over the horizon before dipping down again, leaving a pink shimmer in the sky. Today the clouds absorbed the light faster than she’d expected, but it wouldn’t be pitch-black for a while yet. She would make it there before dark. The snow weighed down the firs and birches. It looked like they were all bowing to her, welcoming her home. To think, that they recognized her even with her frosty silver hair and new skis.

She heard the reindeer and skied faster, though her thighs were stiff. Her breath came faster too, stinging her throat. She must not lick her dry lips or they would redden and crack. She didn’t like the taste of blood.

No one was there now, she knew that. Mom, Dad, and Mattias were at home. It wasn’t time to feed the reindeer yet, but she was going to surprise them. Get the pellets ready, haul out the bags, and maybe even go in and scatter some of the feed. Hold the reindeer lichen in her hand so the animals would flock around her, not the least bit afraid.

The sound of a snowmobile starting up halted her in her tracks. Such disappointment. She wasn’t the first one here after all. The snowmobile was idling. She pushed off with her poles, almost silent, then grabbed the trunk of a pine and peered around it.

It was him.

She never said his name.

In his mouth, between taut lips, was something soft and downy. In his hand, a bloody knife. Elsa squeezed her poles so hard her cold knuckles ached inside her mittens.

He took the piece of ear from his mouth and stuffed it into the pocket of his grimy yellow pants, the kind road construction workers wore. The wide reflective strips flashed as he passed in front of the snowmobile’s headlights. The dead calf lay next to the fence, just outside the corral. He bent down—for what? To take it with him? Her throat betrayed her and he looked up. His eyes were searching, quick and deft, until he found her. Maybe he wouldn’t recognize her with her silver hair?

It looked like he was swearing, stomping toward her in his boots. His tongue bulged behind his upper lip, pressing against the snus to release the nicotine.

Then he grinned and pointed at her, holding an index finger to his thin lips—shhh—before drawing his finger across his throat.

Death. She knew that meant death.

He went back to the snowmobile, took a pair of black gloves from his pocket, and swung his leg over the seat. He was unaware that he had pulled out more than just the gloves. The small, downy ear fluttered through the air and landed in the snow. It bore the mark that proved the calf belonged to their herd.

He revved the engine, releasing the stench of exhaust, but also something undefinable that made Elsa’s nose crinkle.

She skied on shaky legs to where the man was last standing, removed her mitten, and picked up the ear. She wiped the snow away and got blood on her palm. It wasn’t the whole ear; he’d cut off just the outermost part, where the marking was.

She glanced at the dead body by the fence.

It was Nástegallu—Elsa’s reindeer. The white patch between her eyes, and her unusually long legs. Drops of blood covered her soft fur. Elsa’s reindeer, without her earmark to show where she belonged. Elsa couldn’t cry, couldn’t scream. There was a frightening clamor in her head. The thought that one day she would kill the man who did this.

About The Author

© Thron Ullberg

Ann-Helén Laestadius is an author and journalist from Kiruna, Sweden. She is Sámi and of Tornedalian descent, two of Sweden’s national minorities. In 2016, Laestadius was awarded the prestigious August Prize for Best Young Adult and Children’s Novel for Ten Past One, for which she was also awarded Norrland’s Literature Prize. Stolen is her first adult novel and was named Sweden’s Book of the Year.

About The Reader

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 31, 2023)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668005071

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Raves and Reviews

“An extraordinary novel. A coming-of-age story you'll get lost in, about youth and heritage and the never-ending struggle to be allowed to exist. Although set in the coldest and most northern part of Scandinavia, I'm convinced it’s a universal story to be loved everywhere in the world.”
FREDRIK BACKMAN, internationally bestselling author of The Winners

“In equal measure a gripping and thrilling mystery as it is a testament to the continued beating heart of Sámi life. Ann-Helén Laestadius steps confidently beyond young adult literature and takes her place as an important voice in world Indigenous literature.”
MICHELLE GOOD, award-winning author of Five Little Indians

“Viscerally clear fiction of both the fractured, violent nature of the Sámi’s relationship with their Nordic occupiers and the coming of age of an innocent girl. Written with such cool clarity, Stolen is a perfect metaphor of our slippery grip on humanity and our tenuous relationship with the Earth.”
TANYA TALAGA, bestselling author of Seven Fallen Feathers

“Through adept characterization, the novel highlights the problems and issues the Sa´mi face—racism, loss of culture, alcoholism, suicide, governmental mistakes and neglect, and the devastating effects of climate change. . . . Award-winning author/journalist Laestadius, who is herself of Sa´mi descent, succeeds in capturing Sa´mi life.”
Library Journal

“Sámi author Ann-Helén Laestadius has written a fresh, devastating, and insightful novel about Sámi life and the struggle for justice in a rapidly changing world. A love for the imperiled landscape reverberates throughout this engaging read.”
MEGAN MAYHEW BERGMAN, award-winning author of How Strange a Season

“Laestadius offers a rare, multigenerational look at the diverse and deep-rooted cultural heritage of this traditional arctic community. Akin to gritty stories of Old West cattle rustlers evading the law and society, Laestadius’ unvarnished saga demonstrates the universality of oppression and revenge and conflicts over land and race. Teens drawn to tales of social justice crusaders and Indigenous communities will appreciate Elsa’s journey from intimidated child to avenging adult.”

“A deeply gripping and atmospheric novel that will take hold of your heart. Filled with compelling characters and a formidable landscape—this debut is a triumph!”
DANIELLE DANIEL, award-winning author of Daughters of the Deer

“Kick-started by the disturbing poaching and slaughter of a reindeer that was part of a Sámi family's herd in remote northern Sweden, Laestadius’ saga details the inequities faced by the contemporary Indigenous Sámi population. . . . A revelatory account of not-well-known assaults on the rights of an Indigenous group.”

“[Written] with sensitivity and insight for the subtleties of Sámi life.”
The New York Times

“Nuanced . . . the sense of place and character development make for an affecting portrait of the Sámi’s disenfranchisement . . . a solid story of a family torn apart by cultural tensions.”
Publishers Weekly

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