Daunis Fontaine lives in two worlds. It’s not just her self-imposed divide between Hockey World and Real World, but also her very real straddling of the line between her Ojibwe tribal heritage and her life as the granddaughter of one of the old money white families in her Upper Peninsula town. But all of Daunis’s carefully built walls come crashing down when Jamie Johnson moves to town in Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley.
Trigger Warning: The following review for Firekeeper’s Daughter contains mentions of sexual assault.
Firekeeper’s Daughter explores several extremely relevant topics – the meth and opioid crisis ravaging the Midwest, the racism and countless other issues affecting America’s Indigenous population, and the treatment and dismissal of women, particularly women of color. Boulley seamlessly address all of these issues in one heart-pounding thriller about a college freshman who stumbles into an FBI investigation into meth dealers in her tribe.
Simply put, there is a lot going on in this book – more than just the core story about the investigation – but it never feels like too much. These issues often come intertwined; I mean, can you even discuss how women of color are treated without discussing racism? That’s the whole point. Daunis is the perfect main character because she’s a bridge into this world; she’s unaware of the pervasiveness of the meth, and the meth is the big part of the story. She also experiences both worlds, so she has a unique perspective the other characters do not.
Daunis is a great character in general. She is caught between two identities, not really belonging to either. Her white grandmother has attempted to stamp out her Native heritage, while the tribal community at large doesn’t treat her as one of them. She has a privilege that many of her Anishinaabe family do not, but at the same time, she experiences the same racism and microaggressions that they do. But it isn’t just these aspects of Daunis’s character that make her fascinating; she is warring with a lot of conflicting desires, and I think we can all relate to that feeling of just not having any idea what we should do.
I’m unsure how much I can reveal about Jamie – the catalyst to many of the changes Daunis goes through over the course of Firekeeper’s Daughter – without delving too much into spoiler territory. As a character, he’s a mystery. Daunis spends much of the book recognizing how little she actually knows about him. It’s hard to know whether or not I like him because I’m not sure how much of him is really him.
There’s a fake dating aspect, which normally I would be all over, but it’s hard to enjoy that bit because of the investigation. I do like that it had a very realistic outcome, which I obviously won’t delve too far into. You’ll probably be able to infer a lot from what I’ve already written, but again, spoilers.
The main mystery is incredibly well-crafted. I didn’t want to put the book down; I had to keep going because I had to know what was going to happen. I said that Daunis stumbles into the investigation, but the truth is that it comes looking for her. She agrees to help because she wants to help her people; as the book goes on and more members of her tribe are suffering, she wants to make sure that someone involved is thinking about the future of her community. But she also makes mistakes, because she’s an 18-year-old who’s been roped into a serious federal investigation.
I think what Firekeeper’s Daughter does well is keeping the reader on their toes. Daunis knows very little when she joins the investigation, and therefore everyone is a potential suspect. She has no idea who is involved, and so neither does the reader. I was genuinely surprised by a few of the revelations.
There is a lot of focus on the Ojibwe cultural traditions, which is fantastic. It’s a very important aspect of Daunis’s life and so it’s in everything that she does. At times I would have appreciated an index or a glossary, because this is a culture I’m unfamiliar with, but at the same time, I understand why Boulley didn’t include one. It would have felt inauthentic to have Daunis explain what she was doing. She doesn’t need an explanation, so she doesn’t provide one. It’s not on Boulley to hold the readers’ hands. What couldn’t be figured out from context can be researched. I do so love a good Wikipedia deep dive.
Firekeeper’s Daughter also has some amazing female relationships. Ojibwe is not matriarchal in the anthropological sense, but women play an important part in the community. Daunis is shaped by the various women in her life and community. Due to hockey and the nature of the investigation, a lot of Daunis’s interactions are with men, but the women are just as important in not only what’s going on but also how Daunis reacts to it. I love all of the female characters (even the ones I don’t like) because they’re nuanced and complex.
One thing I must mention: Daunis is raped later in the book. It isn’t graphic; there is the lead-up and then there is one sentence where she alludes to what is happening. It does come up later in conversations with other characters, but there is never much description about the assault itself. Still, I feel the need to let you all know it’s there, so you can prepare yourself.
I highly recommend this book, not only for the fantastic look at Indigenous culture (or Ojibwe culture, obviously all tribes are not the same), but because it’s a truly gripping mystery. I thought I had it figured out and it surprised me. My heart stopped at one point, and I thought I’d read it wrong. I’ve been slack about reading during quarantine because I can’t usually summon up the motivation (or the attention span), but Firekeeper’s Daughter had me hooked from the beginning.
Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley is published by Henry Holt and Co. and is currently available wherever books are sold.
I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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