By Ekta R. Garg
March 24, 2021
Genre: YA fiction
Release date: March 16, 2021
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
When a young Native American woman witnesses a horrific crime, she’s approached by law enforcement for help on solving a much bigger problem. As the teen tries to make sense of the threat to her community, she also fights to save it. Author Angeline Boulley writes with confidence and authority in her debut young adult novel Firekeeper’s Daughter.
Although her blood marks her a member of the Native American community, Daunis Fontaine has always felt like she’s never quite fit in. One parent of her parents is white; the other is a member of the Ojibwe tribe in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Daunis has lived in the town of Sault Ste. Marie in the U.P. her entire life, but both non-Native residents and Native residents let her know she doesn’t fit in with them.
Daunis does her best to ignore both. She wants to take the culture she loves and respects into the future. With her eye on medical school, Daunis wants to use the knowledge she’s gained of plants to study their medicinal properties and then use that information later as a doctor.
Even before her dreams can get going, though, they seem to be crashing around her. Her Uncle David, the science teacher at her high school, dies from what looks like a drug overdose. Her grandmother suffers a debilitating stroke, and Daunis’s mother commits to taking care of her. As much as Daunis wants to go away to college, she makes the difficult decision to defer her enrollment for a year and take classes at the local university instead.
The local hockey club is a welcome distraction. In high school Daunis was one of the few girls who made it to the boys’ varsity team, and even though an injury has pretty much ended her athletic career she still hangs out with the players. They include her half-brother, Levi, the new captain of the team. Daunis can’t wait to see him get on the ice with the C on his jersey. It makes Uncle David’s death and her grandmother’s stroke almost bearable.
A new player moves to town, and he notices Daunis right away. Her best friend, Lily, teases Daunis mercilessly, but Daunis won’t allow open herself to heartbreak again. The first time it happened, she almost didn’t recover. She has to be strong on defense this time, even if Jamie Johnson has the most amazing eyes.
An awful crime involving Lily renews Daunis’s grief, but it’s only the beginning of the senseless acts in town. Meth has made its way through the Native community, and Lily’s ex-boyfriend, Travis, is its latest victim. After the situation with Lily, the FBI approaches Daunis and asks her to do something that leaves her speechless. They want her to help them figure out who’s making the meth, who’s transporting it, and how.
Despite her reluctance, Daunis agrees. She can’t bear to watch others fall victim to the torturous drug that literally hollows people out. Although she’s always been nothing but honest with her family members, now Daunis finds herself keeping secrets from the people who love her the most. Jamie is becoming more and more of a distraction from everything, and more kids fall victim to the drug ring. As Daunis works her way closer to the center of the illegal action, she comes to realize it may strike closer to home than she first believed.
Debut author Angeline Boulley uses her firsthand knowledge as a member of the Chippewa Indians in Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan to inform this important story. Readers will find a book rich in cultural education in a way that is neither preachy nor condescending. Daunis informs readers about the things that matter the most to her in her culture in a way that feels organic and personal.
The book digs deep into issues that will be relatable for anyone, no matter their ethnic or cultural background. It showcases situations and customs specific to the Ojibwe tribe, but it does what successful novels should. It proves that despite differences, at their hearts people are all the same.
Some situations and scenes might be better suited for the upper young adult market, and occasionally the influx of information can make some Native customs a little hard to keep apart. Regardless, readers will find themselves appreciating the Native American culture with more informed opinions. I recommend readers Bookmark Firekeeper’s Daughter.