Written by Angeline Boulley
Published by Henry, Holt and Co, March 16th, 2021
My star rating – 4 stars
As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile 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 dashing 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.
Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.
YA contemporary/mystery is probably my least read genre. I can’t say why, but it’s not something that I typically gravitate towards or enjoy. But as soon as I read the synopsis for this, I just KNEW that I needed it in my life!!
First off I need to mention Daunis. She was an absolutely incredible character!! So strong, focused, smart, and determined, despite all the struggles in her life. She’s the daughter of a white/french mother and a native father. She’s caught in this “in between” where she’s too brown for the white folks but too white for the brown folks. With her father being absent from her birth certificate, she was never able to be listed as a full tribe member. Within a year she lost her Uncle to mysterious circumstances and her grandmother fell ill due to a stroke. She had great aspirations to go to school but she decided to put things on hold to be there for her family. Even though she’s dealt with so much loss, pain, and feeling of not belonging, she still works her ass off to get an education, volunteers on the rez, helps her elders, and so much more. I loved that no matter what obstacles she faced, she overcame it all to be the best version of herself – she’s a character we can all strive to be like!!
If you love a story with great friends and family themes, then this book needs to be on your radar! One of my favourite themes in books is strong family and friend relationships – and this had some of my favourites. Daunis has gone through so much but she could handle it all because of the support system surrounding her. Her mom, Aunt, brother, elders, friends, and the community as a whole was soooooo good!The writing style only strengthened by love for friends and family. She would be talking about a situation and bring in small events of Daunis’s past and tie in her emotions and the characters. It’s so easy to feel as if you can relate to Daunis and experience all the emotions along side her.
But the main reason for me picking up this book (and the main thing I loved about it) was that we have an Anishinaabe character and community. I’m not Anishinaabe, but we have an Ojibwe community 5 minutes from my house. I’ve lived my whole life surrounded by this community and being in awe of the beauty within their beliefs. I loved listening to my friends and their family talking about the traditions and customs and haven’t found too many books that encapsulate these things. But this hit the mark in every way. Since the book takes place only a few hours away from where I live, a lot of the things mentioned are parallel to the community here. It felt so familiar, comforting and nostalgic. There are far too few books with Anishinaabe representation and it makes me so happy to see more and more each year!!!!! The dress, the pow wow’s, the language, the food (dear god – if you haven’t had fry bread or indian taco’s you are seriously missing out! That’s some of the best food in the world right there!!). I’m just so happy to see that more people can learn about the communities and their importance in the current society as well as in the past. People need to know how beautiful their culture is as well as the injustices they have faced (and still face today!). I could go on and on about this but seriously folks, it’s so important and I loved every minute detail!!
I will say though, the Ojibwe language is very difficult and may trip you up throughout the book. I STRONGLY suggest that you take a few minutes to visit a site that translates the words vocally. The double vowels can be tricky and hearing it spoken makes a world of difference. I found a link to a site where you can translate words and some will have the option to click the speaker and hear it said out loud (https://ojibwe.lib.umn.edu). And, just so you know, this takes place in Sault Saint Marie – but Sault is pronounced Soo……
My favourite part of the mystery wasn’t necessarily the mystery itself, it was the complicated nature of it all. After she witnesses a murder, she’s lead into an ongoing investigation and is offered the chance to take part but as an undercover informant. She’s faced with wanting to make changes and getting answers but understands that the people involved are a part of her community and maybe even people that she loves. She’s faced with walking a tight rope of her loyalties while balancing what her new version of right and wrong means. If the people that are involved are those that she loves, does she betray them to save others? What details are important to the investigation when she doesn’t know the whole story? Will being an informant make her a snitch and anger the community or will they see it as her caring for the community as a whole? This balance was so interesting to read and her emotional turmoil was really hard hitting. I’m not normally a fan of mysteries at all but the complicated nature of it all, and bringing in the emotional aspects of it, made it something really unique and fascinating to read.
The one thing I didn’t like AT ALL was the romance. Sorry, but it was hyper focused on the romance in times that made zero sense to me at all. For example – Daunis witnesses a murder of someone she loves more than anything (I won’t say because of spoilers). But she’s shattered beyond belief. I can’t imagine witnessing a murder let alone the murder of someone you’re that close with. And for PAGES afterwords all she can talk about is how the love interest Jamie isn’t the person she thought he was. There was one sentence of “blank” is dead and then PARAGRAPHS of Jamie this, Jamie this, Jamie that. I mean, come on! It was so “boy central” at times that I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt. Now, let me just say, this is a YA novel, so the trope fits. But, as an adult reading this, I wanted to vomit then slap the main character and tell her to focus and get her hormones in check. It was annoying.
Romance annoyances aside, this was a truly fantastic book. Strongly written elements of family, belonging, community, culture and traditions, friendship, and so much more. I’m so glad that there’s another native voice in the book community and getting exposure for a culture that is honestly the most beautiful i’ve ever encountered. I love her writing style and I can’t wait to read more from this author!!!
Until next time, happy reading!