As soon as I saw the breathtaking cover for Firekeeper’s Daughter, the debut novel by Angeline Boulley, I was sold. It was one of my most anticipated books of March, then I was thrilled when Book of the Month featured it as an April add-on. Although I bought Firekeeper’s Daughter right away, I decided to save it for November, Native American Heritage Month. It was my first read this month, and an excellent way to kick off November.
|Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley|
|Number of Pages||494|
|Format I Read||Hardcover (BOTM)|
|Original Publication Date||March 16, 2021|
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.
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.
Before I read Firekeeper’s Daughter, I heard Angeline Boulley describe her book as a Native American Nancy Drew – what a wonderful description! I adored Nancy Drew growing up, and devoured as many of the books as I could find in my local library. That character and those mysteries still hold a special place in my heart. In the past few years, I’ve been drawn to reading more diverse stories starring characters of different races, nationalities, religions, sexualities, and gender identities. Seeing a “Native American Nancy Drew” felt like a perfect marriage for me – the young woman detective story I loved as a teen but with a new character to love.
Firekeeper’s Daughter is a YA book, and I admittedly have been trying to move away from YA books lately. As much as I enjoy the stories, the tone is often a bit young for me now that I’m in my 30s. However, this novel definitely feels like it’s for an older YA audience, and at least for me, that is a good thing. I enjoyed this as much as an adult novel, but I can also see how this would appeal to people in their teens and early 20s, too.
There is so much I love about Firekeeper’s Daughter. Perhaps first for me is how much Ojibwe culture and language is here – not just subtly present, but fully part of the characters and plot. I don’t know much about Native American cultures, but I truly enjoyed getting to know about Ojibwe traditions and language. It helped that the new guy in town, Jamie, doesn’t know much either. Daunis, our main character, teaches him a lot early on. She and her community also fully live by their traditions, and I enjoyed getting to see how, for example, Daunis gives thanks to the river each time she crosses it, or how her community honors a member who has passed away.
We also get to see how important community and older generations are. I appreciated how involved Daunis is in helping out her elders and learning from them. There is a lot of love and respect there. It reminds me that I should call my Grandma right now (or at least once I’m done with this review!).
Speaking of grandparents: In Firekeeper’s Daughter, we can also see a lot of clash between white people and Indigenous people. Daunis is biracial: white on her mother’s side and Ojibwe on her father’s side. Her maternal grandmother, as much as Daunis loves her, has been shown to be quite racist towards Native Americans. This prompts Daunis to ask herself if she can still love someone when she doesn’t like them, or when they have some very problematic opinions and actions. How does Daunis view herself when half of her identity is erased in her grandmother’s eyes?
Daunis is an intelligent, strong-willed, and resilient character. She’s the perfect perspective to follow as the mystery gets going. Who is making and distributing the drugs that are devastating her community? Is that person (or group of people) capable of murder?
Meanwhile, she’s working with the new guy – Jamie – to get to the bottom of this case. I really enjoyed their relationship throughout the book. It feels very authentic to the characters and to their age (late teens to early twenties). Daunis has some understandably conflicted feelings, but as they get to know each other, she has to come to terms with her own trust issues. A bit of fake dating helps them, but is it enough to overcome the odds? No spoilers, but I liked where they are when the book ends. It leaves room for imagination, and I know exactly what I’d want to happen next.
Firekeeper’s Daughter weaves in a few genres. It’s not just a mystery/thriller. It also has a healthy dose of family drama, a dash of romance, and ultimately, feels like a coming of age novel. Everything mixes together perfectly, so each theme of the book feels equally important and enthralling.
Likewise, this novel weaves in a lot of big elements: death and grieving, murder, drug addiction, betrayal, sexual assault and rape, deception, cheating, complex family issues. And as impactful and heavy as some of these themes may be, they’re always portrayed with nuance and care. In particular, Firekeeper’s Daughter shows how drugs can devastate a community, but also why they’re susceptible in the first place, and why some dealers may feel they have no other choice. Again, we get to see a harsh reality through a lens of empathy and understanding.
One final thing that I personally love is Firekeeper’s Daughter being set in 2004. That was my year! Most of my cultural references come from exactly this time: Hoobastank playing through the speakers, Hilary Duff on TV screens. I would have been starting high school when Daunis was starting college, but something about the 2004 setting whisked me back to my teenage years, and I loved it.
I could spend all day gushing about how much I loved Firekeeper’s Daughter and all the different, thought-provoking elements it offers. This is a book I’ll recommend to everyone I know, regardless of age, and I cannot wait until the Netflix adaptation comes out. Last I heard, the series will be out in spring 2022, so I’ll be watching it then. I also look forward to reading more from Angeline Boulley: she’s an incredible writer and I’m sure her next book will be just as amazing as this one.
About the Author
Angeline Boulley, an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She is a former Director of the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Angeline lives in southwest Michigan, but her home will always be on Sugar Island. Firekeeper’s Daughter is her debut novel, and was an instant #1 NYT Bestseller.