Angeline Boulley, Firekeeper’s Daughter, Bloomsbury, June 2021, 494 pp., RRP $18.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780861540907
Angeline Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter is thought provoking and heartfelt, exploring the subject of Indian tribes in a contemporary context. This novel gives readers a unique insight into the lives of Native Americans, their language, ancient rituals and teachings, as well as their traditional medicine and healing practises. Unfortunately, violence, especially against women, is a significant part of these tribes and to demonstrate this, Boulley has made it a recurring theme throughout the book.
In both her local neighbourhood and the nearby Ojibwe territory eighteen-year-old Daunis has always felt like an outsider due to her mixed heritage. She is the product of a brief relationship that was frowned upon. Her father was a star hockey player and member of the Sugar Island Ojibwe Tribe and her mother was known as the “richest, whitest girl in town”. While deeply immersed in the Ojibwe culture and community Daunis does not feel accepted by all its members. She does not look the part. Her skin is light enough that she can travel freely across borders, avoiding the questioning and harassment her native relatives and friends must endure by law enforcement.
After witnessing the devastating murder of a loved one Daunis agrees to assist the FBI in tracking down the criminals responsible for the recent drug-related deaths that have torn apart her community. Away from the FBI, Daunis conducts her own investigation. She uses her knowledge of traditional medicines and the journals of her recently deceased uncle to uncover the lies and deceit in her community and find the creators of the dangerous methamphetamine that has brought only pain and suffering.
This novel is not recommended for younger readers due to repeated drug and sexual assault references. But for older readers who enjoy a good thriller and mystery, this book is perfect. It is a roller-coaster of emotions, from depressing to uplifting. Firekeeper’s Daughter explores injustice, suffering and identity but also friendship, love, connection and hope. Overall, it is a highly recommended read. Using the words of Angeline Boulley, in her native language, Mazina’iganan mino-mshkikiiwin aawen (Books are good medicine).
Reviewed by India Boon