Daunis Fontaine’s post-high school life is nothing like the one she imagined. A lingering injury paired with feelings of familial duty has dashed her dreams of playing hockey for the University of Michigan. Drugs have ravaged her community, including the nearby Ojibwe reservation where her deceased father’s family live but where she will never truly belong, as the ramifications of being a biracial, non-enrolled member of the tribe are vast and consequential.
The first few chapters of Firekeeper’s Daughter unfold slowly. Debut author Angeline Boulley takes her time establishing the complex web of characters in Daunis’ life and the complications of a tightknit community made up of both Anishinaabe (Indigenous people) and Zhaaganaash (white people). The book kicks into high gear with a literal bang after Daunis witnesses a horrifying murder. Despite her grief and wariness, she decides to go undercover for the FBI, using her knowledge and connections to help them uncover who is pumping meth into the community, and who is to blame for the steadily increasing body count.
Make no mistake, Firekeeper’s Daughter is, at times, brutal. Boulley’s depiction of abuses experienced by Native women, including sexual assault and murder, is unflinching. However, these scenes never feel casual or cheap. Instead, Boulley, who is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the book is set, writes with honesty, empathy and a clear awareness of the epidemic of violence experienced by the vast majority (more than 80%, according to the Indian Law Resource Center) of Native women.
Though Firekeeper’s Daughter contains gripping action sequences and gasp-inducing twists, it’s Daunis’ mission of self-discovery, which begins as a low and steady growl and grows to a fierce, proud roar, that has the most impact. Her introspective revelation of self-worth acts like a healing salve for the novel’s violence and darkness. Though it both shocks and thrills, in the end, what leaves you breathless is Firekeeper’s Daughter’s blazing heart.