Brand new review: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

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.

Brand new review: Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

By Ekta R. Garg

March 3, 2021

Genre: YA fiction

Release date: February 16, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A high schooler mourns the loss of her best friend after a terrible accident. When she receives an unexpected gift, she traces it to its origin and discovers a secret. Debut author Ashley Schumacher uses innovative prose to explore the depth of grief and the healing power of love in her novel Amelia Unabridged.

High school senior Amelia Griffin knows two things: she’s the biggest fan in the entire world of the Orman Chronicles by author N.E. Endsley, and Jenna Williams is her best friend. In fact, the Chronicles are the reason the girls became friends in the first place. Now they’re inseparable.

Ultra-planner Jenna has it all mapped out: they’ll leave hot, sticky Dallas and go to college at the University of Montana, have practical careers, and always be by one another’s side. Amelia is beyond grateful for Jenna’s friendship. After her father left in freshman year, her mother has spent all of her time either at a part-time job or in front of the TV. Amelia craves family, and Jenna and her parents give it to her.

In the summer before college starts, the girls travel to California to meet the N.E. Endsley. Famously reclusive, the young author has agreed to an appearance at a book festival. The publication date for the third book in the Orman Chronicles has been pushed out, but no one knows when the book will drop. Amelia and Jenna, like hundreds of other fans, have come to the festival hoping for answers.

An hour before the event, though, Endsley cancels, and in the Uber ride to the airport back to Texas Jenna reveals she’s partly responsible. The girls fight, and Amelia struggles to forgive Jenna. Less than two weeks later, during a study abroad program in Ireland, Jenna dies in a car accident.

Amelia doesn’t want to accept this new reality. How is she supposed to go to college without Jenna? How is she supposed to read books without Jenna?

Days after the funeral, Amelia receives a gift: a limited edition copy of the first book in the Orman Chronicles. When she calls the Michigan bookstore on the return label, though, they claim to have no knowledge of where the book came from. According to them, they never processed the order. Amelia and Jenna aren’t even in their computer system. Something about the bookstore employee’s explanation doesn’t ring true to Amelia. She decides to go to Michigan to find answers. If Jenna ordered the book for her, she wants to know the story behind it.

Her trip brings her to a little town in Michigan straight out of a fairy tale. Not only does Amelia find the bookstore that shipped her the gift, but also she meets N.E. Endsley himself. As Amelia works through her shock and her grief at the same time, she rediscovers the power of stories to transform anything and the healing factor of love.

Author Ashley Schumacher shines in her debut novel. Although the events in the opening pages move at a brisk pace, Schumacher doesn’t compromise on Amelia’s depth of gratitude for Jenna’s friendship nor the grief from losing Jenna. The emotions feel so real that the events following Jenna’s death make complete sense in the story world Schumacher has constructed.

Schumacher sets for herself a huge challenge. Creating a fictional novel that readers in the story world love and adore and making it just as appealing to real-life readers is not for the faint of heart. Yet she meets the challenge and endears Amelia to readers all in the process. The Orman Chronicles come across as an old-fashioned fairy tale, exactly the kind an older sibling might invent to keep their younger siblings entertained. Given Amelia’s challenges, it’s obvious why this type of story would appeal to her and reiterates the power of a good book in all the best ways.

Like many YA novels, the adult characters are somewhat underdeveloped or absent altogether. Making them more three-dimensional would have enriched Amelia and Jenna’s story even more. It’s a testament to the novel that the lack of that character development doesn’t hurt the plot. It would have been a rich addition but doesn’t take away from the lovely writing already in place.

Readers who love a good story about good books and good friends should definitely pick this one up. I recommend readers Bookmark Amelia Unabridged.

Newest review: The Day She Came Back by Amanda Prowse

By Ekta R. Garg

July 29, 2020

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: July 7, 2020

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

A teenager is left without any family after her last living relative dies. She’s shocked, then, when the mother she thought had died of a drug overdose comes back, healthy and very much alive. The teen must decide if she can forgive her mother for disappearing and figure out how to move on. Acclaimed women’s fiction author Amanda Prowse is back with another winning novel about grief and restarting relationships in The Day She Came Back.

At 18 years old, Victoria Cutter has everything in the world she needs. She has her best friend, Daksha, and her grandmother, Prim. Daksha and Victoria go back so far they don’t remember life without one another, and Prim has been Victoria’s mother figure her entire life. When Victoria’s mother died from a heroin overdose, Prim was right there to take care of Victoria. Since her grandfather’s death almost a decade earlier, Victoria and Prim comprise their small family and the two dote on one another.

Now Victoria is getting ready for the next big step in life: leaving home. She and Daksha have a long trip planned. Before Daksha goes off to university and Victoria becomes an “adult” and figures out what she wants to do with her life, the two will travel the world on the funds they’ve saved. They’re going to live life to the fullest as long as the money lasts.

Then Victoria comes home one day and finds that Prim has passed away in her sleep. No warning; no health issues. Just that morning she and Prim were teasing one another, talking about the most mundane parts of their day. Suddenly Victoria is all alone in Rosebank, the home she shared with Prim in the London suburb of Surrey.

Daksha and her parents rush to comfort Victoria, helping her with funeral arrangements and making sure she eats and sleeps. Victoria appreciates the support—and the copious cups of tea—but she feels horribly alone and scared. Before Prim died, she was nervous but excited about being an adult. Now the thought just terrifies her. How is she supposed to manage such a large house all by herself? How is she supposed to manage life all by herself?

On the day of Prim’s funeral, a woman shows up to the house who Victoria doesn’t know. She’s rattled, thinking the woman is just one of those people morbidly fascinated by funerals. Then the woman reveals her identity: she’s Sarah, Victoria’s long-lost mother.

Victoria has a million questions, not the least of why Sarah insists on calling her “Victory” instead of her proper name. She also feels a deep sense of betrayal when she finds out that Prim knew all along that Sarah wasn’t dead. Others come forward to confirm the fact, and Victoria feels more alone than ever. It’s like Prim has died twice.

Sarah has come to make amends, even though she’s grieving Prim, and Victoria discovers that everyone has a story to tell. Victoria just can’t figure out how to put all the pieces together into a cohesive narrative for herself. As she works through her own grief, Victoria will have to decide whether she can forgive both Sarah and Prim for keeping this secret.

Author Amanda Prowse returns with a wonderful novel that smacks of reality and the process of learning how to let go of a dear family member. Prowse compounds Victoria’s grief by complicating it: not only does she want her wonderful grandmother back with an aching desperation, she’s also furious with her. Bringing Sarah back into her life also reiterates that Victoria grows up at an accelerated pace.

Prowse doesn’t shy away from the tough conversations about and around grief, and that’s where the book shines. Victoria misses her grandmother with a ferocity that jumps off the pages. She wants to understand why Sarah left her, yet she also wants to maintain the right to be angry at her—both emotions are real and painful.

Although the book centers on Victoria’s grief, it also doesn’t forget that she’s an older teen. The plot allows Victoria to make some stupid mistakes that might seem like “life experience” in and of themselves. Within the larger narrative of her losing Prim, her mistakes just reinforce Victoria’s heartache. Prowse handles it all beautifully.

Readers wanting a great book about relationships and second chances will definitely want to read this. It’s an excellent addition to any shelf. I recommend readers Binge The Day She Came Back.