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Book review: "Firekeeper's Daughter," this year's Great Michigan Read

Best-selling author Angeline Boulley is a member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Her book "Firekeeper's Daughter" was selected as this year's Great Michigan read.
Courtesy Photo
Marcella Hadden
Best-selling author Angeline Boulley is a member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Her book "Firekeeper's Daughter" was selected as this year's Great Michigan read.

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine considers herself to be many things. She’s the daughter of a Sault Ste. Marie hockey legend. She’s a hockey prodigy in her own right. She’s a scientist, just like her uncle. Despite everything she is, Daunis doesn't consider herself to be fully a part of either of the worlds she grew up in. She is a Fontaine, a trust fund baby. The girl whose last name is on the side of a building at Lake State University. She’s also Ojibwe, a part of the tribe that makes up her community- even if they don’t formally recognize her due to the circumstances that surrounded her birth.

There was a clear plan for Daunis' life once she graduated high school. She was to leave the Sault, go down to study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. But when her grandmother has a stroke, all those plans go down the drain. Enrolling in the local college instead, she makes the decision to stay behind and help take care of GrandMary and her own mother.

Suddenly, a whirlwind of events thrusts Daunis into a new role: Confidential Informant for the FBI. Paired up with the newest recruit of her brother’s hockey team, Daunis is tasked with discovering who is distributing a dangerous variant of meth throughout her community. In doing so, she unearths more about those around her than she ever thought was possible.

The first thing that can be noticed in "Firekeeper’s Daughter" are the deep roots in both Ojibwe and Michigan traditions with the use of local terms like “Yooper” and “yous”, along with mentions of Michigan traditions such as pasties and euchre. Anyone who's lived in the state can relate to something within the book, even if they aren’t a part of the Ojibwe tribe that makes up the vast majority of "Firekeeper’s Daughter’s" cast of characters.

The thing that I made the most note of while reading was author Angeline Boulley's amazing ability to build realistic characters with many facets to their personalities, especially that of Daunis. Even characters the average reader would brush off to the side as nonsequential feel like real, living people. Between the setting and the characters, it is incredibly easy to get sucked into Daunis’ world and forget that you’re reading a book.

Firekeeper's Daughter book cover
Henry Holt and Co.
Firekeeper's Daughter book cover

Boulley grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, the town that Daunis lives in. Picturesque descriptions of the area will cause a reader to feel as if they were on Sugar Island too. Boulley writes in the acknowledgements of "Firekeeper's Daughter" about her need to write about the types of characters she didn’t get to experience when growing up. She would like to give young Native teens a hero like them, someone strong that they can relate to. She uses the expertise of her community and her tribe to weave together a hauntingly beautiful story of love and heartbreak.

If there is anything that can be said about "Firekeeper's Daughter" that isn't a glowing review, it is the fact that the ending feels rushed. After chapters of exposition and mystery the last 20% seems to rush through to the end, leaving unanswered questions and mere skimming over the outcomes of major characters. As I finished reading I was left wondering if I had missed something somewhere. It is quite possible that these are questions answered in the pseudo-sequel "Warrior Girl Unearthed," which focuses on one of Daunis’ nieces a couple of years after the events of "Firekeeper’s Daughter." But in viewing "Firekeeper’s Daughter" as a stand-alone novel there are parts of the book’s ending that feel glossed over, leaving me wanting to know more.

"Firekeeper’s Daughter" is a novel deserving of the accolades and awards that it has already received. It is very rare that I am brought to tears while reading, but this book achieved that as I struggled to put it down. This is one of those books that should be read by any young adult, or even older, and will likely transcend the test of time.

Saginaw’s Pit and Balcony Theatre recently hosted the first stop of the Great Michigan Read tour that showcases "Firekeeper’s Daughter." Learn more about the tour here.

Brianna Edgar is a newsroom intern covering the Tri-Cities for WCMU.