Book Review

Firekeeper’s Daughter

Firekeeper’s Daughter

  • Author: Angeline Boulley
  • Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller
  • Publication Date: March 16, 2021
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio

CONTENT WARNING: racism, drug use, grief, gun violence, death, violence, addiction, rape, kidnapping, confinement

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Debut author Angeline Boulley crafts a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.

As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home.

Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

I have been dying to read this since before it came out, and strongly suspected that it was going to be an incredible read. Turns out, I was right, although I had absolutely no just how amazing and powerful this book is. Angeline Boulley has shown herself to be a strong voice with this debut, and I’m not surprised to hear that the story has already been optioned for a Netflix series. After this book, I’m ready to read whatever she writes.

Daunis straddles two worlds, although she maintains very close ties to her Anishinaabe heritage. Her narrative is full of information about her tribe and its history, customs, laguage, and beliefs. It gave me insight into a culture I know nothing about, and shared the myriad ways in which it affects the daily life of people, both positive and negative. It doesn’t shy away from addressing intergenerational trauma, racism, substance abuse, and violence, but it also talks about the joys within the community; the sense of togetherness, the celebrations, how people come together to protect and provide for each other, and the positive interactions between tribe members, whether they are enrolled or not.

“Yet even with such deep roots, I don’t always feel like I belong. Each time my Fontaine grandparents or their friends have seen my Ojibwe side as a flaw or burden to overcome. And the less frequent but more heartbreaking instances when my Firekeeper family sees me as a Fontaine first and one of them second. … It’s hard to explain what it’s like being so connected to everyone and everything yet … yet feeling that no one ever sees the whole me.”

I think my favorite part of the story was the layered, complex characters featured throughout the story. While Daunis is definitely the character that we get to know best, since she is the narrator, the people surrounding her are all well-developed. Everyone has their strengths and flaws, and the way they interact with each other seemed so realistic that it was easy to immerse myself into this community. Something I really liked about Daunis especially, is that she’s a really smart girl who has such a bright future ahead of her, and demonstrates an understanding far beyond her years. Maybe it has to do with the loss and grief that she’s struggling with, the difficulties in her community, the stressors affecting her friends, and the casual racism that she sees but doesn’t necessarily experience first-hand as a result of her mixed heritage. But then she’s placed in a difficult situation where her unique knowledge base can be used:

“I wanted to show people that our traditional healers are—and always have been—scientists who use plants as medicine. But … this? Looking for traditional medicines to experiment with meth at the request of the FBI? It’s not right.”

There’s so many moving pieces to the story that it kept me engaged from start to finish. The FBI investigation, the community relationships, the romance, dealing with grief and loss, and most importantly, Daunis’s journey of self-discovery, of helping the FBI while staying true to who she is and what she believes. 

“The FBI is concerned only with what’s happening right now. They cannot fathom that their activities might have far-reaching effects. Maybe it’s even more important for me to be part of the investigation because I’m the only one thinking seven generations ahead.”

This book is absolutely worth the time to read it, whether it’s in print or the audiobook. The narrator did an amazing job, especially with the long, unfamiliar Anishinaabe words that I couldn’t even hope to pronounce. Either way, this is a book that shouldn’t be missed!

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