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Icon book review: Fire Keeper's Daughter

A Reese's Book Club Young Adult Selection

Review by Robert McCool

Although this book, “Fire Keeper's Daughter” (Henry Holt and Co. ISBN: 978-1-250-76656-4) is presented as a Young Adult book written by Angeline Boulley, it has many lessons to teach us, in a head-first, nose-dive into the Ojibwa Native Culture. Written very much like Tony's, and then Ann Hillerman's Navajo series of books, it gives us insight into a complex culture older than ours but set in contemporary times.

Called a “Bold, Uncompromising, and Elegantly Crafted debut,” by New York Times bestseller Courtney Summers, and “an Incredible Journey,” by award-winning Tochi Onyebunchi, it tells of a young, half-Ojibwa woman named Daunis Fontaine.  Daunis is the Fire Keeper's daughter by a white woman. She has a loving home, a half-brother she loves and respects, and a goal of going away to college to learn native medicine. She also loves the game of hockey, and plays in a men's league until suffering a bad shoulder injury from an intentional bad hit.

It is her ties to her family that mean the most to her, and she spends as much time with her Aunties and Grandmothers as her life allows. Her father, a member of the Fire Keepers clan,  had disappeared some time ago.

But not all is well in the Ojibwa reservation. Drugs have made an invasive impact on the younger tribe members. Some are dying from the influx of Methamphetamine. Some of which is being made right on the Reservation.

Daunis is approached by a FBI agent wanting her to become an undercover Confidential Informant for him. What she doesn't know is the new boy in town that she is interested in romantically is also an undercover plant. She agrees to the arrangement, and follows the string of deaths back to its source. What she doesn't know is how close she is to discovering her friends' involvement in the scheme.

The story is told by Daunis first-person, making her a hero to native readers. This allows us to learn more and more about the Ojibwa way of life. Every day Daunis asks the Eight spectral Grandfathers of her culture for help and guidance by making an offering of tobacco to them.

And I can tell you that a scene in a sweat-bath is absolutely accurate, as I got to join in a sweat when I was out on Washington's west coast. It was a joy to read of Daunis' commitment to traditional values.

This is a book that could be easily classified as an adult read, and I enjoyed all 491 pages in a single day. It is that smooth and engaging from start to finish. When I visited Sugar Island off the coast of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan many years ago as a tourist it was easy to sense the island's importance to the remaining native culture that had survived through the years' challenges imposed by us whites.

Get this book from your local library. The native tongue may be too much for some, but it only adds to the realism of the novel.