REVIEW: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Trigger warnings for racism, death of a loved one, rape, and drug use.

Eighteen-year-old Daunis’ mixed heritage has always made her feel like an outsider, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation, and after a family tragedy puts her college plans on hold, the only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. But 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.

While Firekeeper’s Daughter is certainly a mystery, it is definitely a slow burn one and it’s the characters and the relationships that are more of the focus of the story. It’s more a story of culture, identity, and belonging with Daunis trying to find a place for herself and dealing with her grief even as she is trying to learn enough to stop anyone else from getting hurt. The grief Daunis feels is palpable and is almost like a shadow over the whole novel as she tries to work her way through it and understand that different people deal with grief in different ways. Daunis has lost a lot of people she cared about and how she tries to compartmentalise it all is very relatable.

Daunis as a character doesn’t really have an arc as such. She’s always been a good and caring person, but it’s as her world shifts as she learns more about the people in the community she grew up with, that her world-view has to change to accept these new truths. She has always been sure of who she is in terms of her heritage with a white mother and Ojibwe father and she’s always felt connected to her people, it’s just that almost everyone else has seen her as one or the other, never both – or they see her as not good enough to be one or the other.

The teenage girl working with the FBI element is something that you may have to have some suspension of disbelief as some elements seem unethical or how the investigation goes down seems unlikely to happen that way. However, it’s a YA mystery story and those often need reality to be taken with a pinch of salt. Plus, with Firekeeper’s Daughter, though the mystery element is interesting, it’s how it intersects with Daunis’ hometown and culture that is the most compelling and I believe that is what was handled well. It didn’t shy away from how Native women fall through the cracks of the various legal systems that are there to supposedly protect people which I think is one of the more important things for a story like this to recognise. Also, Firekeeper’s Daughter is set in the early 2000s which isn’t noticeable to begin with but it does make the mystery move along in ways it wouldn’t if it was set today with smart phones and social media so I thought that was an interesting and clever choice.

Firekeeper’s Daughter does not shy away from the difficult realities’ Native communities face, but it is also a story that has hope, optimism and love sprinkled in throughout. Daunis always has hope that things can get better and gains strength from the other women in her community, even when her connections in the FBI are more jaded.

I flew through Firekeeper’s Daughter almost 500 pages. I was gripped from the outset and that’s because of Daunis. Her family and community dynamics were so interesting and thought-provoking and she did feel like a real teenager struggling to keep things together. I teared up multiple times reading Firekeeper’s Daughter, and a lot of those moments came from Daunis’ interactions with the Elders of the community and how they would help and support her.

Firekeeper’s Daughter is just a truly excellent and compelling book, and I think it’s going to become one of my go-to recommendations from now on. 5/5.


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