Skip to Main Content

The Only Good Indians


“One of 2020’s buzziest horror novels.” —Entertainment Weekly
A “Most Anticipated Books of Summer” selection in Esquire, Elle, Vulture, Time, AV Club, Bustle, and Literary Hub
“Gritty and gorgeous” —The New York Times
“Jones is one of the best writers working today regardless of genre, and this gritty, heartbreaking novel might just be his best yet.” —NPR
“Jones’s latest horror novel sprints from start to finish.” —The Washington Post
“[A] stark page-turner.” —Los Angeles Times
“More than I could have asked for in a novel.” —Tommy Orange, Pulitzer Prize finalist author of There There
A masterpiece. ” —Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Survivor Song

A tale of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

This reading group guide for The Only Good Indians includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Four American Indian men from the Blackfeet Nation, who were childhood friends, find themselves in a desperate struggle for their lives against an entity that wants to exact revenge upon them for what they did during an elk hunt ten years earlier. Not just them, either, but their families and friends.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. The story opens with a dark and pessimistic headline that rings true by the end of the prologue. What do you think of Ricky’s prediction? Do you believe what he saw that night or was it a figment of his imagination? Could he have changed the outcome?

2. Lewis is haunted by one afternoon of hunting with his friends, instead of all the other hunts he’s been a part of. What about that hunting trip was unique? Do you understand how it was a violation?

3. Lewis believes he is being pursued by the spirit of the young mother elk he killed. How does his recent string of bad luck chip away at his sanity? Discuss the combination of factors that push him over the edge. Would these circumstances have driven you insane?

4. Lewis convinces himself that Elk Head Woman has infiltrated his life first as Shaney, then as Peta. What convinced him each time? Did you expect him to kill them both? If so, at what point did you realize he would go that far?

5. As the story unfolds, it seems less and less likely that Ricky and Lewis were imagining that an elk was after them. What did you believe was happening at this point in the narrative?

6. Discuss reading the chapters as told through the Elk’s voice. Why do you think the author chose to include this point of view? What fresh insight does it provide? How did it change your understanding of the first few chapters?

7. Having already heard Lewis’s account of that night ten years ago, how does hearing the Elk’s version of events change your perspective? Does it make the revenge justified?

8. We’ve had little access into the world Lewis and Ricky left until the novel moves to Blackfeet Nation. Discuss what you learn about the reservation from Gabe and Cassidy.

9. As the story progresses, the chapters continue to be told from the perspective of a pivotal character but with one significant difference: moments from the Elk’s perspective are now interspersed. Discuss this narrative choice. How does it affect your view on the unfolding events?

10. On page 156, Gabe mentions emptying his dad’s freezer of the last bit of elk meat from their hunt ten years ago and feeding it to the dogs. How does this moment tie into what is happening now? How does it foreshadow what is to come?

11. Describe Denorah. Discuss how she ties into what is happening with Elk Head Woman and why she is involved in what happened ten years ago.

12. As the three embark on the sweat, they reveal more about life as a Blackfeet, both past and present. Discuss the challenges they face and their differing methods of dealing with them. What, if anything, was surprising or unexpected about their experiences and their conversation during the sweat?

13. When Elk Head Woman sets her plan in motion, things unravel quickly for Cassidy and Gabe. She has no remorse for anyone who gets caught in the crossfire. Discuss how everything from one angle implodes, but from her standpoint goes like clockwork. Do you think this level of violence is warranted? Is this revenge or overkill?

14. Denorah and Elk Head Woman go toe-to-toe on the basketball court long before the true game begins. Why does Elk Head Woman draw this out? Imagine you are in Denorah’s shoes. Could you run, fight, and endure for as long as she does?

15. Denorah brings the saga full circle in the end. How does she influence the outcome? How do her actions compare to the choices her father made? What is the relationship with her parents? The day’s events have a significant ripple effect in the tribe. Why is Denorah’s story passed on?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Stories, lessons, and legends are passed down from one generation to the next. Discuss the theme of generational knowledge and how it is an undercurrent for each character and influences their decisions. How has the history you’ve inherited influenced your life? How does it influence these characters’?

2. Everything that happens throughout the novel is possible only because, on some level, the characters believe that it is. Did their culture and upbringing influence that? Discuss what you believe about spirits, the afterlife, and what is possible or impossible. How easy or difficult was it for you to suspend your disbelief?

3. Early on, we learn the full meaning behind the title: The Only Good Indians. Discuss the meaning behind this insult and the author’s choice to use it as the title. Does it give power to the saying or does it take it away? Discuss its significance in the context of this novel, as well as in the world you live in.
Gary Isaacs

Stephen Graham Jones has been an NEA fellowship recipient, has won the Jesse Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Independent Publishers Award for Multicultural Fiction, a Bram Stoker Award, four This is Horror Awards; and has been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award. He is the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Fans of Stephen King's It and Peter Straub's Ghost Story should find plenty to love in this tale of friends who are haunted by a supernatural entity they first encountered in their youth.” —Silvia Moreno-Garcia, bestselling author of Mexican Gothic

“Jones boldly and bravely incorporates both the difficult and the beautiful parts of contemporary Indian life into his story, never once falling into stereotypes or easy answers but also not shying away from the horrors caused by cycles of violence.”—Rebecca Roanhorse, bestselling author of Trail of Lightning and Black Sun

"The Only Good Indian is equal parts revenge thriller, monster movie, and meditation on the inescapable undertow of the past. A gripping, deeply unsettling novel."—Carmen Maria Machado, National Book Award finalist and Guggenheim Fellow and author of Her Body and Other Parties

"The best yet from one of the best in the business. An emotional depth that staggers, built on guilt, identity, one's place in the world, what's right and what's wrong. The Only Good Indians has it all: style, elevation, reality, the unreal, revenge, warmth, freezing cold, and even some slashing. In other words, the book is made up of everything Stephen Graham Jones seemingly explores and, in turn, everything the rest of us want to explore with him." —Josh Malerman, New York Times bestselling author of Bird Box and A House at the Bottom of a Lake. 

“Stephen Graham Jones is a literary master who happens to write horror, and you've never read a book quite like The Only Good Indians.”—Tananarive Due, National Book Award winner, author of The Good House

The Only Good Indians is scary good. Stephen Graham Jones is one of our most talented and prolific living writers. The book is full of humor and bone chilling images. It’s got love and revenge, blood and basketball. More than I could have asked for in a novel. It also both reveals and subverts ideas about contemporary Native life and identity. Novels can do some much to render actual and possible lives lived. Stephen Graham Jones truly knows how to do this, and how to move us through a story at breakneck (literally) speed. I’ll never see an elk or hunting, or what a horror novel can do the same way again.”—Tommy Orange, Pulitzer Prize finalist of There There

The Only Good Indians is the most American horror novel I've ever read.”—Grady Hendrix, New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

A heartbreakingly beautiful story about hope and survival, grappling with themes of cultural identity, family, and traditions.” Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Subtly funny and wry at turns, this novel will give you nightmares. The good kind, of course.”—Buzzfeed

“This novel works both as a terrifying chiller and as biting commentary on the existential crisis of indigenous peoples adapting to a culture that is bent on eradicating theirs.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

"I like stories where nobody escapes their pasts because it's what I fear most."—Terese Marie Mailhot, New York Times bestselling author of Heart Berries

"Stephen Graham Jones is one of our greatest treasures. His prose here pops and sings, hard-boiled poetry conspiring with heartbreakingly-alive characters." —Sam J. Miller, Nebula-Award-Winning author of Blackfish City 

“Gritty and gorgeous” —The New York Times 

"How long must we pay for our mistakes, for our sins? Does a thoughtless act doom us for eternity? This is a novel of profound insight and horror, rich with humor and intelligence. The Only Good Indians is a triumph; somehow it’s a great story and also a meditation on stories. I've wondered who would write a worthy heir to Peter Straub's Ghost Story. Now I know the answer: Stephen Graham Jones."—Victor LaValle, author of The Ballad of Black Tom and The Changeling

"THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS is a masterpiece. Intimate, devastating, brutal, terrifying, yet warm and heartbreaking in the best way, Stephen Graham Jones has written a horror novel about injustice and, ultimately, about hope. Not a false, sentimental hope, but the real one, the one that some of us survive and keeps the rest of us going. And it gives me hope that this book exists and is now in your hands."—Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World

“Jones hits his stride with a smart story of social commentary—it’s scary good.”—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Jones... has written a masterpiece. The book is… as instinctive and essential as it is harsh. Despite the blood and bleakness, The Only Good Indians is ultimately also about hope and the promise of the future...Read it.”

– Locus Magazine

More books from this author: Stephen Graham Jones