Published by Rock the Boat on March 16, 2021
Genres: Suspense, Thriller, Young Adult
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia
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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.
With rave reviews everywhere, and even a Netflix option by Barack & Michelle Obama’s production company, there’s certainly a lot of hype attached to the Firekeeper’s Daughter. The main character Duanis, is a biracial 18 year old hockey player who gets caught up in an FBI investigation in her local Obijwe community.
Perhaps I’m just used to fantasy YA having amazing covers, but the first thing that struck me about this book is that it’s not actually a fantasy novel – it’s actually a contemporary mystery. It features Native American cultural traditions, hockey playing, a drug investigation, and a STEM main character who thinks in facts and figures. There’s also a bit of romance, as Duanis is approached by the mysterious Jamie who is actually an undercover FBI officer who wants her to become their confidential informant. This was the part that was exciting for me, as I wanted to see what her role would be like and the answer to the dead bodies that would keep on appearing at Sugar Island.
“It’s hard when being Native means different things depending on who’s asking and why,” he says.
“And to some people, you’ll never be Native enough,” I add.
Firekeeper’s Daughter has a strong focus on the Ojibwe community and I enjoyed the Native American culture and stories that are passed down from the Elders. Duanis is biracial and she still faces prejudice from within her own community. Hockey is the one place where she feels like she belongs, even though it’s mostly full of males and toxic masculinity (more on this later). It was wonderful hearing about her passion for sport, as well as traditional medicines and science. I think she’s definitely a strong protagonist and it’s wonderful to see some representation for her identity.
As you may have guessed, Firekeeper’s Daughter covers some dark and heavy topics. I didn’t expect it to be so in-depth when it came to the drug production – there’s even a meth class that Duanis undertakes with the FBI agents that tells her how it’s made! There’s also a lot of murder, estrangement and even a rape scene that didn’t really get much closure, although reading the author’s note at the end, this was done intentionally. The mistreatment of Native American women is a strong discourse woven in through the book, which is a sad reality.
While the novel starts off strong, with death, an exciting new role and Duanis sharing a bit about her interest in traditional medicine, it becomes quite dull towards the middle. I found it to drag as nothing much happened towards the investigation for a long time, as for much of it, Duanis would be conducting most of it herself while relaying the information back to the FBI. It becomes very repetitive as we get an in-depth look into her daily life, as we see her hanging out with her fellow hockey players, visiting her grandmother in hospital, thinking about her deceased father, participating in her cultural practices, hearing stories about her people and developing feelings for Jamie. The novel is almost 500 pages which I found to be too much for a contemporary novel and I definitely think the book would have benefited with more extensive editing.
It does pick back up towards the end as she makes a breakthrough in the investigation, but I just wasn’t interested in the bulk of it throughout the middle of the book, because it seemed like we were going nowhere.
One thing I did find strange about the novel is the 2004 setting – I was confused about the old “txt speak” between Duanis and her best friend Lily, but then realised at that time, autocorrect wasn’t really a thing. It does feature a reference to an old music video, but I wasn’t quite sure what the justification was for the 2004 setting (perhaps it could’ve been a more accurate depiction of Sugar Island at that time).
Firekeeper’s Daughter is a unique book featuring Native American traditions and customs, and a main character who is a hockey player and interested in STEM. It definitely resembled Veronica Mars for me with the grittiness and darker topics, such as drug use, the murder investigation and small town secrets. While the book does meander towards the end, it’s definitely a unique read and I can see lots of readers loving it. I’m definitely interested in the upcoming Netflix series now!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Trigger warnings: drug use and addiction, death of a relative, grief and trauma, rape, murder, suicide
Firekeeper’s Daughter is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$18.99 or from The Book Depository.
Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for sending me a review copy!
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