Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

Summary: As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her 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 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.

Genre: contemporary, mystery, young adult
Rating: 4/5 stars

Boulley’s debut novel is a compelling deep dive into Native American culture that shows how serious and dangerous drug use is, as it makes shockwaves through a Native reservation. I found myself devouring this book despite how big it was, and I was itching to get back to it to dive deeper into Daunis’s world.

There’s so much to learn in this story, as Native culture is so infrequently written about or heavily marketed. The author wrote about a completely fictional experience but used the reservation she’s from, which I found especially interesting since it takes place relatively close to where I live, and some of the places mentioned were familiar to me. Since it was clear the author wanted to educate readers on her world, I expected to see tons of info-dumping here, with full, dense paragraphs, but instead it was done in a creative way. Daunis, our main character, is in charge of showing a new guy around, so a lot of what we learn comes from their conversations. It was refreshing to read about different traditions and see the language used, and I appreciated how the author was able to sneak in pronunciations for some more challenging words or names to help the reader along the way.

This was such a great contemporary novel that I still would have adored it had there been no murder-mystery aspect. Daunis has a compelling background that I could have spent forever reading about: her mom got pregnant in high school, and her father got another woman pregnant only a few months later. Daunis, being biracial, struggles with not being an enrolled member despite being part of the tribe. She faces plenty of hardship at only 18, losing friends and family, giving up her dreams to help her family and community. I enjoyed reading about the relationship Daunis had with her half-brother and all the drama and scandal surrounding them.

Despite this book being about a drug problem that is overtaking a reservation and destroying lives of people around Daunis, I found that part to be the least interesting compared to the rest of the story. Maybe it was because drug use is so common now that it didn’t really feel shocking or impressive. I tend to shy away from shows or movies about drugs in general, as I’ve always found them boring, so maybe this was just a personal preference for me.

The reason for not giving this a full five-star rating is that there were some aspects of the story that rubbed me the wrong way. Daunis is Not Like Other Girls, going as far as to slut-shame them for dating hockey players, despite her doing the exact same. The book takes place in 2004, with no explanation for why, but I felt that her behavior could maybe be excused since we were probably all more problematic 15+ years ago. But as easy as it is to justify her actions, it would have been even easier to simply make her not say offensive things.

I also felt that the big reveal and twist in the story were extremely predictable. From the very beginning I guessed one of the twists, so when it finally came to light I was exhausted that it took so long for Daunis to figure it out. She’s supposed to be incredibly smart, considering she goes undercover to solve a drug bust, but she was so naïve sometimes that it was frustrating. I found her personality to be quite immature at times, despite this book discussing some seriously heavy topics (drugs, sexual assault, murder, addiction) – as a side note, I don’t know that I would consider this book to be young adult considering the intense subject matter. Her relationship with Jamie felt inappropriate and uncomfortable given his background and how mature he was in comparison.

Overall, I do think the good outweighs the bad here, and this is still a great (albeit slow-moving) contemporary YA.

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