Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Review by Lydia Gilbert

Angeline Boulley, Firekeeper’s Daughter
Henry Holt and Co, 2021.

Having the unique perspective of a young (non-Indigenous) reader native to Sault Ste. Marie and the opportunity to meet Angeline Boulley on more than one occasion, I was thrilled to read Firekeeper’s Daughter.  While reading, I would smile with excitement each time I recognized a building, store, or location in the novel, bragging to my book-loving friends that my high school is mentioned in a best-selling YA novel that is being adapted into a Netflix series.  Additionally, I felt my heart sink at each depiction of racism and microaggressions and each example of violence against Indigenous women.  We must improve as a community.  Boulley’s novel is a wonderful tool to draw readers’ attention to the very real injustices impacting very real people, compelling readers to listen and learn from Indigenous voices.  I have encouraged nearly every reader in my life to dig in and lose themselves in the world of Firekeeper’s Daughter—they will be a better person for it.

Crafting a beautiful novel full of thrills and mysteries, love and sorrow, justice and injustice, debut novelist Angeline Boulley presents a thought-provoking and powerful exploration of Indigenous cultural identity, generational trauma and triumph, and coming of age.  Her debut novel is set in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan and is inspired by Boulley’s proud Anishinaabe identity and membership of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.   Firekeeper’s Daughter tells the heart-racing story of eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine, a biracial eighteen-year-old living in Sault Ste. Marie.  Daunis has a unique experience balancing two cultural identities bestowed by her hockey-star Sugar Island Ojibwe father and her French-speaking mother from a prominent and wealthy family.  The summer after her high-school graduation, Daunis’s life turns upside down. She is engulfed by an FBI investigation of a hallucinogenic form of meth tearing her community apart.  Using her knowledge of chemistry and Ojibwe traditional medicine, Daunis investigates the meth’s production and distribution.  She soon discovers that nothing will ever be the same.

Daunis’s empowering heritage and Boulley’s beautifully compelling storytelling bring authentic Indigenous representation to the young-adult, mystery, and thriller genres.  The spirit of the novel feels as real as the St. Marys River and well represents the communities and history of the eastern Upper Peninsula.  It brings much-needed attention to drug use and racism.  It also sheds light on the tragedy of Indigenous women being murdered and assaulted at a disproportionate rate and on the horrific history of residential boarding schools.  Most importantly, the novel breathes life into the people of the Sugar Island Ojibwe tribe, bonding the characters and readers, who feel compelled to rise to the novel’s calls for justice, education, and empathy.  These factors make Firekeeper’s Daughter a must-read for all coming-of-age and mature readers.

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. Boulley 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. It also won the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature (Teen category) in 2022.

Reviewer Lydia Gilbert is a senior at Albion College, double majoring in English and Social Studies for Secondary Education. She has been a member of The Albion Review since her freshman year, and she is thankful for all of the friends and fond memories she made at its meetings. Outside of class and The Albion Review, Lydia loves telling stories to her family and friends. She looks forward to sharing her love of literature with her future English students.

%d bloggers like this: