Author: Angeline Boulley
Narrator: Isabella Star LaBlanc
Audiobook Length: 14 hours 14 minutes
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.
Firekeeper’s Daughter is an incredibly written debut novel. I highly recommend the audiobook version to listen to the pronunciation of many of the indigenous words and it seemed to give the story an extra layer to the experience. There is an incredible amount of material in this novel and it will very interesting to see how it will look on tv as it has already been optioned to be turned into a series. The novel is very detailed with descriptions to make the reader feel as if everything is playing out in front of them. The best way to go into this novel is with an open-mind to form your own opinions as there is a lot of hype around its release and that can create high expectations for the new reader that picks up this novel. In addition to providing a thrilling mystery, this novel delves into culture, traditions, and prejudices.
The main protagonist is Daunis Fontain, an 18-year-old star hockey played and unenrolled member of the Ojibwe in the upper Michigan, Sault Ste Marie area near Sugar Island. She is the product of a teen pregnancy to a French-white mother and a Native, Anishinaabe, father. In addition to her the emotions with her own identity, there are many other emotions going through her head. Her Uncle David, died suddenly from an overdose, her maternal Grandmother, Grand Mary, suffered from a stroke, her hockey career in jeopardy due to events later revealed in the story, and a difficult romantic break-up. She becomes involved in an FBI investigation into a meth ring when there are some deaths and disappearances with those she knows. With her connections in the community and her strong science-background, she becomes their informant and the dangers become greater.
As a non-indigenous reviewer, I cannot fully say some parts are realistic or not, but I have friends that are and they found the initial idea that Daunis would agree to work with the FBI willingly as highly suspicious. The relationship between government authority and tribes is very complex, so they found it hard to believe that Daunis would be more trusting and become a part of it, even if it is to help her community. For me, I found this issue to be touched on a little, but never fully explained as to why Daunis trusts in the investigation and the agents working the case. There are a lot of deaths that occur throughout the novel and the author handles the trauma Daunis goes through with care. The justice system’s relationship with the Native community is touched on a lot and deserves its own novel as there is a lot to unpack in this complex dynamic.
I found this story to be a great learning experience and unapologetic in its representation in addition to be an entertaining mystery. Daunis has a deep respect for the tribal traditions and cultures and it is integrated well into the story. There is a natural introduction to the culture and language for the reader within the writing that was very interesting. This cultural and identity portion is one of the three main storylines that are presented in this novel. The second is the romance where Daunis is learning to open herself up to the possibility after her last break-up. It is a minor plot compared to the other two, but it is weaved throughout the entire novel. The last is the actual mystery portion with Daunis trying not to rouse suspicion as she is investigating her own community. She is not a professional investigator, but she knows the people around her, so it is a balance between gathering evidence and her feelings for the people surrounding her.
Overall, this novel was a very refreshing read/listen as I cannot picture another novel like it. There is a lot of information that gave an excellent insight into a culture and traditions that I am not familiar with that much. At times, the writing can be overwhelming as there is a lot packed into each page, but it did not feel like an info dump as each piece of information seemed to come up naturally. There were portions of the novel that I thought could have been either done slightly differently or dropped all together from the novel, but generally, it was an enjoyable experience. This novel was a longer listen at over fourteen hours, but I felt more immersed in my experience compared to reading an ebook or physical copy of the novel. From this novel, I would definitely be interested to read any and all future works from this author!