Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult Thriller
Representation: Indigenous (Ojibwe), Mixed-race, gay (minimal), Black Indigenous (minimal)
Content Warnings: Violence against Native women, drug-use/trafficking, racism
"Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. She dreams of a fresh start at college, but when family tragedy strikes, Daunis puts her future on hold to look after 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, she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.
Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, drawing on her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine to track down the source. But the search for truth is more complicated than Daunis imagined, exposing secrets and old scars. At the same time, she grows concerned with an investigation that seems more focused on punishing the offenders than protecting the victims.
Now, as the deceptions—and deaths—keep growing, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go for her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known."
"There's a teaching about the daughter of the original firekeeper," I say. "She starts each day by lifting the sun into the sky and singing."
"I don't like her story, because she doesn't even get her own name in it...She get's stuck with the responsibility of lifting the sun every morning...Just seems like a raw deal--all that responsibility and you don't even get your own name."
"I decide that from now on I'll leave out that extra name. My Spirit name is enough."
Firekeeper's Daughter is vulnerable, honest, intriguing, and mysterious. This novel has fantastic pacing and plot development on top of Boulley's observant narrative. I was sucked into this story from the very beginning. Daunis is a relatable narrator. I loved learning about her knowledge of chemistry (among other sciences) and Ojibwe traditional medicine. She is also very connected to her elders and family which, I feel, makes her a more effective investigator as she is ultimately trying to save her community, rather than simply seek out justice. Daunis is methodical.
Although the book spends a lot of time developing Daunis's world and uses a lot of Ojibwe words, phrases, ideas, and cultural practices they were perfectly intertwined with the plot so that the information was vital to the story. Sometimes, when books pause the plot to explain cultural significance or the scenery, etc. I lose sight of the plot and get confused. I did not feel that way about this book. The audiobook helped me feel wrapped up in the story as I was able to hear how everything was pronounced. If you are not familiar with the language and prefer to read in print, you may want to use the Ojibwe People's Dictionary to help you understand the language and hear pronunciation by Native speakers.
This novel is described as a thriller, but it is different from the types of thrillers I'm used to as this one is deeply rooted in the terrifying reality that many Native communities and women face daily. It's about the missing, assaulted, and murdered Indigenous women who are victims of a system in which people look the other way. Whether they are forgotten and ignored by U.S. authorities because of tribal law, or by their own people for monetary gain. I am not well-versed in this topic, but I am aware of the many Indigenous creators I have seen posting content about missing Native women and violence against them.
Firekeeper's Daughter cannot be separated from the history of anti-Indigenous violence, whether it be the residential schools, substance abuse, or sexual assult. Therefore, it is a great book to use to start a conversation about them. I recommend this book to everyone.