Keep the Secret. Live the Lie. Earn your Truth.
Eighteen-year-old Daunis’ mixed heritage has always made her feel like an outsider, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. When she witnesses a shocking murder, she reluctantly agrees to be part of a covert FBI operation into a series of drug-related deaths. But the deceptions – and deaths – keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home. Now Daunis must decide 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 making my way through the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize shortlist – though until last week I couldn’t disclose that fact – and this book is shortlisted for the Older Readers category, aka teen fiction. I had seen this come out in hardback and though the cover was always appealing to me, as well as the concept of a story told by and about Native Americans, the fact that it was contemporary didn’t inspire me to pick it up, as I don’t read a lot of books set in our world and during our times. I am learning, though, that I really enjoy the perspective that young adult novels bring to current events and Firekeeper’s Daughter was no different.
It stands out as probably one of the chunkiest books I’ve ever seen in the teen section, and I was worried it would take me quite a while to get through, but I devoured it in two days, and I’m pretty sure I was dreaming about it when I wasn’t reading. It is absolutely gripping from start to finish, with Daunis’ narration making her instantly likeable and the perfect guide for non Native American readers to experience her culture. As the daughter of a white woman and a Ojibwe man, Daunis has always felt like an outsider, caught between two cultures, never good enough for either of them, despite the fact that her mother’s family is one of the most influential in the town, and her father’s family also holds old roots. Because of this limbo state she is in, and because of her role in the much-celebrated hockey team and her science-wired brain, the FBI see her as a perfect candidate to help in their investigation of rising drug-related issues in the area.
People say to think seven generations ahead when making a big decision, because our future ancestors—those yet to arrive, who will one day become the Elders—live with the choices we make today.
At this point, I will say that this is not a book to be picked up lightly: it depicts the harrowing reality of the effects of hard drugs on a community, especially a community that already holds so much trauma. There is violence, death, and so much grief, but the hope for the future and the strength of that same community were beautiful to read as well. I think it’s an absolutely worthwhile read but I do urge you to know your triggers and tread lightly if needed.
I won’t talk more about the plot beyond the synopsis provided because there was an element of mystery to the story and I don’t want to give away the twist and turns that made it so compelling to read. Along with that were the people; I already talked about Daunis and how I loved being in her mind, the way her brain works through things logically and the way she relies on her traditions and beliefs as well as modern science. I also loved the supporting characters, especially the strong women that Daunis has in her life, like her mother and her Auntie on the Firekeeper side. Both relationships felt so real in the way there were depicted, ever shifting (especially for a teenager) but always strong.
Firekeeper’s Daughter, as well as being an incredibly compelling and heart-felt story, is also such an important piece of representation and I am so glad it is getting attention in the world of literature. The way that Boulley writes with so much soul and tangible love for her community came through the pages and I hope she inspires new stories to be written (and be championed!!) by other members of Native communities. It brings a fresh breath to literature and it brings a new focus on the effects of history still playing out today. I suspect that this story will stay with me for a long time…
Published: 1st April 2021
Genre: teen fiction, mystery
Narration style: first person present tense, single point of view
Format read: hardback
Content Warnings: drug abuse, death, suicide, violence, gun violence, sexual violence, abuse