I had worked closely with Angeline Boulley on putting together the Decolonizing Libraries panel for the KidLitCon 2020 that never happened, so naturally between that and being a book set in my home state, I went out and bought my own copy. Trigger warning: this book contains scenes of murder and rape, as well as drug use.
by Angeline Boulley.
Henry Holt, 2021.
Read from purchased copy.
Daunis Fontaine starts every morning giving an offering of semaa and praying to the Creator for a specific one of the Grandfathers – the values of the Anishinaabemowin – before running to visit her grandmother in the nursing home where she’s been since her stroke. It’s the summer after high school, and Daunis is still trying to decide whether to go to the University of Michigan in the fall, or to stay home and go to the local college with her best friend, Lily, where she can also continue helping with her grandmother.
Her white mother got pregnant with her in high school, but due to drama and the prejudice of her own parents never married Daunis’s father, nor put his name on her birth certificate. That last has meant that though Daunis is still close with her paternal aunt and her half brother Levi, she isn’t enrolled with the tribe.
Early in the book, Daunis is witness to a murder, and all around her people – her own uncle, other girls her age – turn up dead. None of them appear to have been murdered, but there are still too many people. When the FBI turns up asking her to help, Daunis has to decide if cooperating with them will help or hurt the community she loves.
Things that I really enjoyed here: the magic of coming onto Sugar Island, the place that feels most like home for her; the inclusion of her dreams; the many included Ojibway words; the hard work she does with both family and romantic relationships and especially the way the romance wrapped up and the balance of beauty and ugliness of spirit in people and communities. There’s also a lot of hockey, which feels right, even though it’s not an area of expertise for me.
This is being billed as both a thriller and as a Native Nancy Drew. There is certainly plenty of tension, good friendship, and a little romance. But the strongest thread that comes through is Daunis herself, her confidence in the ways of her people, her respect for her elders, and her love for the land. Her spirit and that of her people shines through the darkness of the corruption and pain at the heart of the string of deaths. It is a stunning book, and I am so very glad it’s getting the attention it deserves.
You can watch a conversation between Angeline Boulley and Louise Erdrich on YouTube.