For What It's Worth

For What It's Worth

Monday, August 9, 2021

Review: The Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

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. ~
Goodreads

Source: Library Format - audiobook, narrated by Isabella Star LeBlanc

The bookpusher: Jen - "This was a story about grief and loss. The book tackled the complexity of family relationships. It had classic YA themes of finding yourself as a young woman, and especially as a biracial young woman. And it was so deeply and movingly rooted in the customs, practices, beliefs and traditions of the Ojibwe/Anishinaabe  people."

My Review: This is really a stunning debut that deftly balances a story that defies genres. It's a bit of a thriller, mixed with coming of age, while exploring culture, class and feminism and many issues that stem from those subjects. 

Daunis is a biracial girl born from a relationship between her white mom, who is from a prominent (rich) local family and her dad (now deceased) who is Anishinaabe and an enrolled member of the Ojibwe tribe on Sugar Island. She is not enrolled but spends much of her time on the Ojibwe reservation and feels very close to that side of her family, including her aunt and a step brother (same father - different mother) and best friend Lily.

Although she feels very connected to the traditions and people of the reservation, and is very close to her white mother and grandmother, she also feels like she never quite belongs in either world. She still grieves for the loss of both her dad and beloved uncle David (her mom's brother), a local teacher, who died of a drug overdose.

After a tragic event  that upends Daunis's world, she agrees to work as an informant with the FBI, using her knowledge of both chemistry and native culture/medicines to track down who is funneling drugs into the reservation.

This story is so hard to pin down. There is a romance but this is NOT a romance. There is a mystery to solve but it's NOT just a mystery. It's a coming of age story but so much more.  

It all hinges on the wonderful Daunis. Smart, loyal, vulnerable Daunis. She follows the family tradition of playing hockey, although an injury has mostly side-lined those dreams. She's a chemistry whiz, and she gives off strong Nancy Drew/Veronica Mars vibes when it comes to deduction skills and her tenaciousness in crime solving. Her tender heart and love for her friends and family make her a fierce protector.

She's caught up in something much bigger than her. Joining the FBI case pairs her with Jamie, a young agent posing as a student and her boyfriend. They bond and it slowly develops into more but she's never sure what's real or just part of the charade for the case. Daunis is also torn about whether helping Jamie and his boss , Ron, will hurt the tribal community more than it will help.

I was listening to this on audio and had 3 hours left when my phone died and loan ended. I had to wait 12 weeks to finish the last 3 hours. I had left off with Daunis putting clues together and figured the last 30% would just be her cementing a relationship with Jamie and wrapping the case up. Boy was I wrong!

The Firekeeper's Daughter takes a lot of turns in that last few hours. While the first 70-ish% of the book is mostly a fascinating character study and exploration of Ojibwe customs, the last 30% is a twisty action packed, shocking, ultimately satisfying race to the finish line. 

This was an ambitious undertaking and occasionally tries to cover too many topics but Boulley somehow pulls it off, maybe not totally, but enough that Daunis and her story will stay with you long after you put this book down. I especially loved how the romance element was written. Without revealing too much, I felt it was understated and handled in both a realistic yet satisfying way. 

There are a few nitpicks - pacing issues, a lot going on in one book, an event that happened that I'm still not sure needed to but wow is this an impressive book for a debut author!

The book has also been optioned by The Obamas’ Higher Ground production company to develop as a Netflix series.

Content warnings: drug abuse, sexual assault - both talked about abstractly and an instance semi on page, kidnapping, violence, suicide, murder, death of family members, racism. If there is a more complete list somewhere or something I missed, let me know.  


22 comments:

  1. I love how there's a romance, but isn't a romance, and a mystery, but so much more than one. Just that sentence hooked me!

    Genesis @ Whispering Chapters

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    1. Thanks so much! I really enjoyed this one.

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  2. Sounds like it was worth the wait to get those last three hours. Seriously, that is a tragic tale about your phone going dead and your loan ending and a 12 week wait. UGH!!

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    1. You know how hard it's been for me to get into reading and to have a book I as hooked on go away *cries* lol

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  3. What's this? ANOTHER review?!? 👀😲😂 And a lovely one at that.

    "a stunning debut that deftly balances a story that defies genres. It's a bit of a thriller, mixed with coming of age, while exploring culture, class and feminism and many issues that stem from those subjects."
    It's impressive that she mostly pulled it off, given the amount of stuff she was handling.

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    1. Ha! WHO AM I?? And I have a few more in draft!!

      Thank you - xoxo

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  4. Oh no about having to wait 12 weeks! And then to have it veer off and become so twisty lol. Glad it was great though. Seems like an interesting mix of many things.

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    1. I'm just happy I remembered things and could jump back in lol

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  5. Keep the reviews coming lol!!!!!

    Seriously though, this caught my eye because of the Ojibwe. The part of Michigan I grew up in had a significant population so even though I don't know a lot about them necessarily, I'm somewhatfamiliar. I like that it's a mix of cultural but also a thriller.

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    1. I know! It's getting wild up in here! I have another one coming Thursday lol

      Then you might like this one. It's kind of a coming of age Veronica Mars style story.

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  6. I will wait for the netflix one ;)

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    1. I don't usually like adaptations but this would make a great TV show.

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  7. Noooo! To finally get your reading groove ack (mostly) and then to have to wait 12 more weeks to get the last 3 hours?! That's like bookworm torture! But, other than some pacing issues, it definitely sounds like it was worth the wait.

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    1. It was really good! It wasn't even so much pacing issues as a few REALLY big things happen towards the end and I was like *gasp*


      I thought I was just cruising till the end lol

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  8. I wish I picked this up on my bookstore run this morning. Next time.

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    1. It's a great story and even more amazing to pull so much off by a debut author.

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  9. This book definitely seems like something I would be interested in! I've seen it poking around the book community, and I think the cover is absolutely amazing. I've been trying to read more books with Indigenous characters, it's something that I've grown really passionate about. I'll add this one to my radar!

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    1. Then you would probably like Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But We're Afraid to Ask. I read that between starting this and the pause between waiting for hold to end and there was a lot information that overlapped with the story. Both were great.

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  10. This book must be good because the library waitlist is intense. I’m glad you liked it. I’ll get to read it eventually.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. I had been warned that it was a little slower paced and long (which it was) but I really loved how well everything was laid out and then pulled together. And the last 30% got intense!

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  11. Thanks for this wonderful review! I'm reading all BIPOC authors next year and this is perfect. I think I have it shelved on Goodreads, but I'm going to hop over and make sure. 👏👏👏

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    1. You listen to audiobooks right?? I should have mentioned that in my review because the audio was great.

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