5 out of 5 stars
A stunning book: powerful, important and beautiful. And there’s hockey.
I listened to the excellent Firekeeper’s Daughter audiobook, which means I heard how to pronounce all of the Anishinaabe words and phrases, but have no idea how to spell them. That leaves me woefully unprepared to write this review. Please forgive where Google lets me down.
Daunis Fontaine is a college-bound former hockey player in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. She’s also biracial, and born of scandal. Her mother is white, from a powerful, rich local family. Her father was a Native Ojibwe from a small, tribal Sugar Island who had NHL goalie prospects until one accident took his dreams, and another took his life. She’s close with both sides of her family, navigating the gap as they keep their distance from each other.
Daunis’ life changes forever when a shocking murder results from a meth-related incident. The drug is infiltrating their town, and particularly the Ojibwe tribe. In an effort to vindicate her people and save lives, Daunis agrees to go undercover for the FBI. But soon the lies, deaths, and secrets are piling high and the threat creeps ever closer to home.
There are so many mesmerizing aspects to this book. It’s a beautiful and gritty glimpse into the Ojibwe, Anishinaabe, American, and Canadian cultures that layer into Daunis’ every day life. She’s white enough to feel apart from the Native community – and her rich white family kept her father off the birth certificate, which has real implications for Daunis. But any amount of Native blood means some whites will always consider her less. The casual racism and micro aggressions she faces are a constant low thrum, driving her purpose but never overwhelming her persona.
Boulley, who is Ojibwe, writes beautifully, seamlessly weaving the Native language into the story. That Firekeeper’s Daughter is her first novel is a towering achievement.
The story also showcases a contrast between modern white and Native lifestyles, prospects, and economics, all set against a backdrop as common as sports. (If you love hockey, it’s great bonus content, perfectly written.) I learned about tribal enrollment and casino deals, about meth and investigations. There are many crimes, but as with any marginalized people, it’s the victim, not the crime itself, that dictates their importance. Daunis works to equalize that in a fierce but smart way worthy of the best heroines.
But it’s not all heavy. There’s humor, and some gorgeous family dynamics at work. There are also a love story, a school story, and sports story, and a sibling story that keep Firekeeper’s Daughter gracefully rooted in the YA genre. It’s as adult as the real life young adults face. But Daunis is neither jaded nor naive. She’s practical and realistic, like an adult, but she’s not yet tired. She’s not defeated by the circumstances of her life, rather she’s energized. There is an optimism in her fight that shines brightest of all in this excellent, important, and massively enjoyable book.