High school senior Brynn Gallagher has recently moved from Chicago back to her Massachusetts hometown, a welcome if difficult change. After a scandal in Chicago got her kicked off the student newspaper, Brynn is now starting over at her old private school, Saint Ambrose.
In an attempt to repair her reputation and impress college admissions officers, Brynn lands a coveted internship at “Motive,” a buzzy true crime TV show. Her first assignment is digging into the four-year-old unsolved murder of William Larkin, a Saint Ambrose English teacher whose body was discovered in the woods by three students.
One of those students is Brynn’s former best friend, Tripp Talbot, who ended their friendship in humiliating fashion. As the anniversary of Mr. Larkin’s death approaches, Tripp is still haunted by the lies he told, and he’s drinking more than ever.
The danger mounts when secrets from Mr. Larkin’s past collide with Brynn’s investigation. Brynn and Tripp are surrounded by suspects, including their own family members, and it begins to look like everyone at Saint Ambrose has a motive for murder.
Nothing More to Tell is another suspenseful page turner from bestselling author Karen M. McManus. In her signature style, McManus (One of Us Is Lying) never gives readers a moment to relax, drawing out suspects and secrets in rapid succession. As the clues build momentum, so will readers’ desire to plow through the novel to see how it all ties together.
However, the most compelling element of McManus’ storytelling is neither the crime nor the victim but the trauma of the survivors left behind. As Tripp drinks to numb his pain, Brynn makes sacrifices to help him, stoking both romance and healing between them. The novel’s well-rounded cast of supporting characters includes Brynn’s feisty genius of a sister; her uncle, who has a troubled Saint Ambrose connection of his own; and Regina, who owns the bakery where Tripp works and is a supportive breath of fresh air.
Brimming with twists and turns, Nothing More to Tell is a fine addition to the genre that McManus helped popularize.
The most compelling element of bestselling author Karen M. McManus’ latest thrill ride is neither the crime nor the victim but the survivors left behind.
Chloe Green and Shara Wheeler have nothing in common except their goal of beating each other in a ruthless race to become valedictorian of Willowgrove Christian Academy, the best school in their small Alabama town. Chloe is a queer former Californian with two moms and a mean streak; Shara is the principal’s daughter and the de facto princess of Willowgrove. So when Shara corners Chloe in an elevator at school one day and kisses her, questions arise. Things get even stranger when Shara vanishes in the middle of prom, leaving the prom king without a queen and the school buzzing with rumors.
With weeks left until graduation, Chloe is determined to find Shara, but she’s not the only one looking. Star quarterback Smith Parker, Shara’s longtime boyfriend, and Shara’s next-door neighbor, bad-boy Rory Heron, have both been “kissed and ditched” like Chloe. With only the memory of vanilla-mint lip gloss and an increasingly convoluted string of clues to follow, the unlikely trio reluctantly band together to track down Shara—who may not want to be found.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler, the first YA book by adult romance sensation Casey McQuiston, brilliantly deconstructs many tropes common to teen novels published during the first decade of the 21st century, including popular yet troubled girls, outsider heroes and scavenger hunts, complicating them by incorporating queerness, religious trauma and a deep interiority. Likewise, Chloe, Shara, Smith and Rory push against the outlines of their archetypes. The result is a messier and more grounded take on contemporary YA fiction that will appeal to current and former teens alike.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler is self-aware but not self-conscious, and it never condescends to its readers. McQuiston’s prose is quick, witty and referential, striking a balance between the wry way that characters speak in rom-coms and the way that real teenagers actually talk. McQuiston maintains the tone (and frequent absurdity) of the novels they’re emulating as their characters explore issues that teens have always faced. They handle trauma and its impact with nuance and sensitivity, and even tertiary characters feel dimensional.
Shara herself is the most impressive accomplishment here. As if anticipating comparisons to the oft-derided manic pixie dream girls of John Green’s novels, McQuiston takes an affectionate jab at Paper Towns early on: “Of course Shara cast herself as the main character of her own personal John Green novel,” Chloe thinks. Like the seekers in that novel, Chloe, Smith and Rory initially learn more about themselves and each other than about Shara. But as she does with many other elements in this novel, McQuiston twists this trope, going one step further than Green and peeling back Shara’s layers, revealing her to be deeply complicated—smart, insecure, gregarious, selfish and more. She’s clearly no one’s manic pixie anything, and her desperation to be found speaks to her sublimated desire to find herself.
In a letter included with advance editions of the book, McQuiston writes that “I Kissed Shara Wheeler started off as a feeling.” The book’s most potent impressions are also feelings: the rush of nerves before the opening night of the spring musical; the strange magic of driving familiar streets at night; your crush’s name appearing on your phone screen. I Kissed Shara Wheeler assures readers that although hurt is real, love is complicated and friends can let you down, the world is wide and nothing is impossible.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler, the first YA book by adult romance sensation Casey McQuiston, brilliantly deconstructs tropes common to early-2000s teen novels.
Olivia Prior has spent her entire life at the Merilance School for Independent Girls, a gray and loveless institution haunted by half-formed ghouls only she can see. Although the ghosts are unsettling, it’s actually the mysterious journal her mother left behind that keeps Olivia up at night. Filled with entries punctuated by ominous drawings in dark ink that suggest her mother descended into madness, the journal tells a strange story Olivia can’t untangle.
One day, a letter arrives at Merilance. It reveals that Olivia has living family members after all and summons her home to Gallant, her family’s estate. But Gallant has ghosts of its own, and within the sprawling house Olivia finds more questions than answers. A gate in the garden leads to a twisted world of dust and death, family portraits are missing from the halls, and one of Olivia’s cousins insists that she should leave Gallant while she still can. Yet no amount of secrets or nightmares can dissuade Olivia from claiming her place in the Prior family.
In her first YA novel since 2017, V. E. Schwab explores what it means to have a home and how a house can be a haven for one person and a prison for another. They juxtapose the pain of losing family with the pain of never knowing one, as characters struggle to preserve whatever scraps of love and comfort they manage to find.
Such fragile familial bonds stand in stark contrast to the macabre imagery of the world beyond the garden gate. When Olivia, who cannot speak and uses sign language, meets someone at Gallant who also signs, or finds traces of her mother’s life through objects in her bedroom, or shares a moment at the piano with her cousin Matthew, these moments carry real emotional weight. But as Olivia discovers more about her past and a connection to the darker side of Gallant, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to hold onto her newfound family.
In addition to its narrative text, Gallant incorporates reproductions of entries from Olivia’s mother’s journal, and dreamlike illustrations by Manuel Šumberac enhance the story’s moody atmosphere. The result is a cryptic tale of familial love and loss that’s perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Seanan McGuire.
Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes quartet is one of the most influential YA fantasy series of the past decade. In All My Rage, Tahir proves she’s just as skilled at contemporary realistic fiction.
All My Rage alternates between the perspectives of former best friends Salahudin and Noor. As the novel opens, both teens feel stuck in their small town of Juniper, which is surrounded by the Mojave Desert. Earlier in their senior year, Noor told Sal about the romantic feelings she’d been harboring for him, but Sal rejected her, and they haven’t spoken since.
Sal’s parents, Misbah and Toufiq, run a roadside motel that has seen better days. Misbah has been skipping treatments for her kidney disease, and Toufiq is drunk more than he’s sober. Noor’s uncle adopted her when she was 6, but he resents that raising her has meant deferring his own dream of becoming an engineer and wants her to take over running his liquor store when she graduates.
Noor’s been secretly applying to colleges and ignoring the texts from Sal’s mom asking when she’s going to visit so they can watch their favorite soap opera together again. Yet when Misbah’s health takes a turn for the worse, it’s Noor who’s in her hospital room to hear her last word: “Forgive.” Noor reconciles with Sal and the two grow closer while continuing to keep secrets from each other. As the truth comes to light, Sal and Noor must each decide what can—and should—be forgiven.
All My Rage takes the often cliched all-American trope of two young people who long to leave their small town behind and fills it with moral complexity and emotional heft. The book’s six sections each open with a stanza from “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle about grief and “the art of losing,” which Noor struggles to write a paper about for English class. Sal and Noor experience numerous losses, and Tahir excels at conveying how trauma and tragedy ripple outward, shaping even the lives of those who seem untouched by darkness.
Tahir explores weighty questions, such as how we can forgive someone for hurting us when they should have been protecting us, but she includes frequent moments of wry levity and solace, especially the comfort Noor finds in music and the Muslim faith she shared with Sal’s mother. All My Rage will likely make you cry, but it will definitely make you smile, too.
“If we are lost, God is like water, finding the unknowable path when we cannot,” Misbah tells Noor. Tahir’s invitation to join Sal and Noor on their search for such a path feels like a gift every step of the way.
In All My Rage, a novel about two teens desperate to leave their small town, Sabaa Tahir proves she’s just as skilled at contemporary fiction as she is at epic fantasy.
Allison Saft’s second YA novel, A Far Wilder Magic, is an enchanting fantasy tale about two young people, Margaret and Wes, who are drawn together in pursuit of a mythical fox purported to hold alchemical power. Throughout the story, Saft creates magic that feels astonishingly real. Here, she offers a deeper look at A Far Wilder Magic and explores how she gave life to the imaginary world of New Albion.
The idea for A Far Wilder Magic came to me in a glimmer of what felt like magic. For much of 2019, writing felt impossible. I’d recently finished revisions on what would become my debut novel, moved halfway across the country and was desperately trying to figure out what my next idea would be. I wrote a quarter of a new book and immediately trunked it. I despaired that I would never fall in love with a book again.
In writing circles, inspiration is often figured as a lightning strike, or else something that seizes upon you at 2 a.m. and refuses to let go. Now that I’ve gone through this cycle a few times, I’ve come to understand it as something that dwells beneath unturned stones. You have to go looking for it. In that fallow period in the months before I began outlining A Far Wilder Magic, I began searching for it in books.
I found it in The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s a delightfully odd book and easily one of my favorites. Few other books have managed to capture my imagination in the same way. I reread it every year, weeping inconsolably through the last 50 pages of my yellowing paperback edition.
And it isn’t just me. Every year, on the first day of November, thousands of people share the book’s first line on social media: “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” TheScorpio Races possesses a powerful magic indeed, to compel its readership to treat the races like an event we can set our calendars by, and I was determined to understand the workings of the spell Stiefvater had woven.
During that 2019 read-through, what struck me most about the novel is that the most magical thing in it isn’t the mythical water horses or the race itself. It’s the atmosphere that informs every choice Stiefvater makes. It’s the way I feel when I close the book each time: like home is a place I have never been before. That was the most important lesson I carried with me as I set out to write A Far Wilder Magic: Magic isn’t a thing, it’s a feeling.
It was something of a revelation, since I most often find myself gravitating toward magic that works like science. In New Albion, where A Far Wilder Magic is set, magic is alchemy. In our (real) world, alchemists strove for purification and perfection. Among their goals were the transformation of base metals into gold and the distillation of an elixir for eternal life. Alchemy was a philosophical pursuit as much as it was a scientific one, and I wanted to capture both of these aspects when I put my own spin on it.
Just as real alchemists did, practitioners of magic in New Albion aim to make sense of the world, to demystify it. Industries have sprung up around alchemized goods, from cosmetics to fashion to military technology, and becoming a licensed alchemist affords social status and political clout. Yet as New Albion modernized, its inexplicable magic began to vanish. All but one of the mythical beasts have been killed, and the last one is hunted each year in a sporting event. When magic is a part of everyday life, when it is in itself mundane, an author needs to create a sense of wonder for the characters—and by extension, for readers—in other ways. That challenge, I think, was what drove me as I wrote.
I’d argue that the true source of magic lies in point of view. The details that a character notices allow me to conjure an entire world. My job as an author is to convince readers that there is magic in even the smallest things. To do this, I think about what associations my narrator attaches to a particular place. What memories does a particular smell awaken for them? What are their eyes drawn to when they step into a room? What gossip have they heard about another character?
Page by page, my setting and characters accrue meaning and texture and history. I can convince my readers that my protagonist is someone with a life, one that began before the reader and will continue after they close the book for the last time. Through the protagonist’s fears, desires and memories, the setting becomes a place the reader could visit, if only they knew the way. Books like that fill me with yearning that almost knocks me breathless, a nostalgia for something I’ve never had at all. That, to me, is far more fantastical than any alchemical reaction.
Sometimes I feel as though Margaret and Wes, the main characters of A Far Wilder Magic, are friends I could call. I carried them with me for months, imagining that they walked beside me and wondering how they would respond to the things around me. Envisioning the world through their points of view made me permeable to wonder in a way I’d never been before.
In a way, A Far Wilder Magic is an archive of the things I was enchanted by as I drafted it: the color of a wave when struck by sunlight; the humbling, silent enormity of the redwoods; the whisper of the wind through the grass; the view from a mountaintop; people, from their most insignificant, charming quirks to their immense capacity for kindness and cruelty. And maybe most of all, the things you notice about the person you love.
The title of A Far Wilder Magic refers to a specific line in the book: “Like this, she looks more wolf than girl, like some magic far wilder than alchemy runs through her.” Although Margaret and Wes initially dislike each other, in this moment, Wes sees something pass over Margaret’s face that renders her almost mythic to him. Throughout the book, he can’t stop noticing small things about her, all the little details that build to something unaccountable. Without even realizing it was happening, he’s fallen in love with her. The wildest magic in New Albion isn’t alchemy. It’s something more intangible.
Author photo of Allison Saft courtesy of Lisa DeNeffe.
YA fantasy author Allison Saft explains how she created alchemical wonders in A Far Wilder Magic.
Romania 1989: Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania’s longtime leader, has told the world that Romania is a land of bounty, and the world believes him. But Cristian Florescu, who lives with his parents, sister and grandfather in Romania’s capital city, Bucharest, knows the truth. Gray, lifeless buildings line the streets, and food scarcity, unreliable electricity and constant paranoia are part of daily life under Ceaușescu’s regime.
Cristian is a high school student who dreams of becoming a writer, but the Securitate, Ceaușescu’s secret police, have other plans for him. Called to the principal’s office one day, Cristian is greeted by an imposing member of the Secu. Under threat of blackmail, Cristian agrees to become an informant and to report on the American diplomat whose apartment his mother cleans.
As Cristian begins his double life, he starts to doubt everyone around him, even his closest friends and family. Glimpses of the world outside Romania stir feelings of confusion and curiosity and leave Cristian reeling as he tries to make sense of the contradictory truths he is uncovering about his country. All the while, Romania rushes toward revolution.
Part espionage thriller and part bildungsroman, Ruta Sepetys’ fifth novel, I Must Betray You, focuses on a lesser-known aspect of Cold War history and provides a window into the chilling reality of 1980s Romania, the dictator who fooled the world and the events that led to his downfall.
The novel is a master class in pacing and atmosphere. Much of the book unfolds slowly, creating a foreboding sense of rising tension, until the dam suddenly breaks. Months of caution and paranoia cascade into a frightening series of bloody protests.
As a writer of historical fiction, Sepetys’ greatest strength is her dedication to research. The novel’s diaristic tone and its laser focus on one boy and one country’s story don’t leave much space for the broader context of historical communism and Marxist ideologies within the narrative, though copious endnotes are packed with tales from Sepetys’ research trips across Romania, photos from the period that offer profound visuals and plentiful source notes.
“When we don’t know the full story, sometimes we create one of our own,” Cristian writes in the novel’s final moments. “And that can be dangerous.” I Must Betray You makes its potent message clear: If the truth sets us free, its power comes from how we choose to wield it.
Ruta Sepetys’ new novel is an atmospheric and masterfully paced historical thriller set during the end of the regime of a dictator who fooled the world.
In the city of Setar, the capital of the kingdom of Ardunia, Alizeh works her fingers to the bone all day cleaning the 116-rooms of Baz House, a noble estate. At night, she works on commissions as she tries to establish herself as a seamstress. She can only survive this exhausting schedule because of her supernatural strength and endurance. Alizeh is Jinn, and while Jinn and humans have coexisted for many years, Jinn are considered untrustworthy and are not allowed to openly use their magic.
Even among Jinn, Alizeh is extraordinary, with more reason than most to put up with the abuses of life among the servant class. She has been on the run since the death of her parents, and a noble house with a large staff and plentiful security is the perfect place to hide. Yet there are parts of Alizeh’s story that are unknown even to her.
Kamran, crown prince of Ardunia, is destined to succeed his grandfather as king. On a visit home from his military duties, Kamran notices a strange interaction between a street urchin and a servant girl, and fears the servant girl may be a spy from the rival kingdom of Tulan. His suspicions set in motion a series of events he cannot control as Alizeh becomes a wanted woman who is believed to be a significant threat to the king. Kamran’s conflicting principles—loyalty to his king and conviction that Alizeh is not a danger—draw him down a path to find out the truth for himself.
A retelling of “Cinderella” complete with an aspiring seamstress on a crash course toward a fateful royal ball, This Woven Kingdom masterfully incorporates influences from Persian and Muslim history, culture and mythology. Exceedingly powerful but not invulnerable, the novel’s Jinn are an intriguing addition to the YA canon of such figures. Setar is vibrantly evoked, and its wintry climate and snowy landscape set it apart from books with similar plots and themes.
The novel’s standout feature is its language. This Woven Kingdom is a fairy-tale retelling that actually sounds like a fairy tale: Its characters speak like they’re in one, using formal tones and sophisticated vocabularies. That is not to say the novel is devoid of levity. Indeed, the grandiosity of Alizeh and Kamran’s banter adds to the intoxicating sense of wonder and flirtation that marks their interactions.
Tightly paced, with a rollicking set of twists and revelations and a chaotic climax that leads straight to a whopping cliffhanger of an ending, This Woven Kingdom is an exceptional fantasy that blends its various influences to addictive effect.
Tahereh Mafi masterfully incorporates Persian and Muslim influences into this exceptional, addictive “Cinderella” retelling.
In the summer of 2020, amid an unending news cycle of fear and death, millions of people all over the world took to the streets to protest the murders of not only George Floyd but also many other Black people by police officers. In Ain’t Burned All the Bright, award-winning author Jason Reynolds and artist Jason Griffin portray this claustrophobic spiral from the perspective of a young boy.
The book begins in medias res: “And I’m sitting here wondering why / my mother won’t change the channel,” the narrator says, “and why the news won’t / change the story.” In sections titled “Breath One,” “Breath Two” and “Breath Three,” the narrator’s seemingly mundane desire to change the channel transforms into fearful imaginings of his family being consumed by smoke, water or illness.
Reynolds’ words are spare, scattered in brief lines or, occasionally, single words filling an entire page in thick, powerful letters. The narrator shifts between the minutiae of everyday life, as when his “sister talks to her homegirl / through the screen of her phone,” and the things that complicate it: “and they talking about a protest.” On the opposite page appears the most carefully rendered image in the whole book, a detailed portrait of George Floyd.
Griffin’s diaristic collage art is the linchpin of the book. Dynamic and visceral, it is composed with paint, pencil and notebook paper, as well as with Reynolds’ text itself, which Griffin has printed and cut out in small strips of short phrases and placed into each spread. Griffin incorporates Reynolds’ stark but carefully chosen words into larger scenes of fires, floods, houses and skies, creating a surreal experience across the book’s more than 300 pages. He skillfully juxtaposes vast spaces of black and white with color and texture; canvas tape and speckled paint make images feel urgently three dimensional, while the blank spaces feel expansive. Many of the illustrations recall the densely saturated colors and silhouette figures of artist Kerry James Marshall.
In the book’s final pages, Griffin depicts a large leaf growing out of a pot, its delicate green reaching the top of the page. The image calls to mind a poem written by Ross Gay in the year after Eric Garner’s death. In “A Small Needful Fact,” Gay writes that Garner, whose final words were “I can’t breathe,” worked in horticulture for New York City’s Parks and Recreation Department, where he might have planted seedlings, which “continue / to do what such plants do . . . like making it easier / for us to breathe.” As it ends, Ain’t Burned All the Bright doesn’t offer any platitudes, and the narrator still wants to change the channel. But he does, despite everything, remember to breathe.
Dynamic and visceral, Ain’t Burned All the Bright artistically portrays the claustrophobia of the summer of 2020 from the perspective of a young boy.
It’s the 15th century, and the grim shadows of Portuguese slave ships loom over the Atlantic Ocean. The divine orisa Yemoja, prevented from destroying the ships by ancient magical law, instead uses her power to transform seven humans into mermaidlike beings called Mami Wata. They are tasked with collecting the souls of enslaved people who die at sea—whether by jumping overboard or being murdered by their enslavers—so they can be blessed on their journey home to Olodumare, the Supreme Creator.
Simidele is proud to serve Yemoja as Mami Wata, but she still feels an irresistible pull toward the wisps of memories she can recall from her former life as a human. When Simi chooses to save the life of a boy thrown overboard from one of the ships, she sparks a conflict between powerful orisas. The only way Simi can save herself, Yemoja and the other Mami Wata is by finding two magic rings and petitioning Olodumare for forgiveness. Adekola, the boy Simi rescued, offers to help her find the rings, but her fondness for him holds dangers of its own. Yemoja warns her that if she ever acts on her love for Adekola or any other human, Simi will dissolve into seafoam.
Skin of the Sea is an inspired take on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” that blends West African religion and history in an immersive adventure. Simi travels across sun-soaked sands and into cold ocean depths, through dense forests and into harsh volcanic strongholds. In luscious prose, debut author Natasha Bowen beautifully paints sensory details that often trigger Simi’s returning memories. Past and present lace together in these flashbacks, sparked by the familiar color of someone’s eyes or the scent of a homemade meal. Bowen’s rich descriptions are also well suited to conveying the breathtaking grandeur of the many gods, goddesses, spirits and creatures whom Simi and Kola encounter on their quest.
From the outset, the stakes are high for both Simi and Kola. Each new challenge highlights the heroes’ courage in fighting for the ones they love even as they also work to heal from the cruelty and trauma inflicted upon them by enslavers aboard the deadly ships. Skin of the Sea painfully entwines love and sacrifice to create a story as powerful and majestic as the sea itself.
This inspired take on “The Little Mermaid” blends West African religion and history in a story as powerful and majestic as the sea.
To foster a fruitful discussion about race in America, begin with an essential resource like Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. It “is not a history book. . . . At least, not like the ones you’re used to reading in school.”
A “remix” of Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, the book begins by dividing racial thought into three categories—segregationist, assimilationist and anti-racist—and clarifying that a person can articulate thoughts from more than one category in the span of a day and can certainly change camps over the course of years or a lifetime. It then follows the trail of racist and anti-racist ideas as they have challenged each other across history, from the first-known written record of racist ideas in 15th-century Europe to the arrival of Europeans on North American shores, all the way through contemporary American society.
This may sound like an epic feat for a slim volume written for young readers—and it is. More than merely a young reader’s adaptation of Kendi’s landmark work, Stamped does a remarkable job of tying together disparate threads while briskly moving through its historical narrative. Employing his signature conversational tone, Reynolds selects key names to dwell on, revealing complex motivations behind their actions and diving fearlessly into their contradictions.
This Book Is Anti-Racist
Once readers have been introduced to Stamped’s thorough overview of the history and modus operandi of racist and anti-racist thought, the next steps are self-reflection and action. Turn to This Book Is Anti-Racist, written by Tiffany Jewell and illustrated by Aurélia Durand. It’s a handbook for how to be an anti-racist in a racist world, with neatly organized sections that guide readers through its mix of theory and practice.
First, Jewell encourages readers to explore their own identities and to consider how we all “carry” history. Next, she offers a guide on preparing to act against racism, including strategies such as disruption, interruption, calling in and calling out. Finally, she invites readers to consider how to work in concert with others through allyship, spending privilege, self-care and more. At the end of each section, journaling and writing activities help to solidify and personalize the content.
Jewell uses a mixture of facts and personal anecdotes to illustrate each concept. Her text speaks directly to young people and acknowledges their limitations—as well as their great potential—in a world where many decisions are made by adults. She is honest about the discomfort and risks involved in taking action against racism and encourages readers to reflect and prepare before they do so.
Durand’s colorful artwork depicts wonderfully diverse groups of young people, and it combines with Jewell’s intentional use of inclusive language to provide a safe and inviting way for teen readers to reflect on the world’s issues and their place in solving them.
Two books confront the history of racism in America and provide a road map for teens to take action.
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.
Though it both shocks and thrills, in the end, what leaves you breathless is Firekeeper’s Daughter’s blazing heart.
Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.