I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Based on the movie of the same name, author and director Adam Garnet Jones’s novel Fire Song is a story of loss, grief, and bad decisions. Tackling some prominent issues with the Native communities in Canada, Fire Song is an intense novel if only a touch disjointed. Trigger warning: This book contains suicide, attempted suicide, sexual assault, homophobia and underage drug use.
Shane’s younger sister Destiny has died. On top of that he is in love with his best friend, David, despite being in a committed relationship with a girl named Tara. And the cherry on top? Shane has been accepted into university in Toronto but is too broke to be able to make it while the band won’t help him because of legal complications caused by the death of his father years previous.
Shane is at his breaking point between wanting to come out to his friends and family about his relationship with David and wanting to get the hell off of the res. Meanwhile, their area is plagued by underage drinking and drug use thanks to dealer, Debbie, and the constant threat of teenage suicide.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this story as we get more and more into the characters’ lives and at times, this felt distracting while my mind kept thinking of the loose ends. Not only that, but the third person perspective was interrupted at times by journal entries from Tara that often felt unnecessary to the story and off-pace for sure.
Shane seems like a nice enough kid who just wants a better future for himself than being just another “Indian stereotype”. However, he makes some pretty terrible decisions when it comes to his girlfriend, Tara, his choice of friends, and thinking becoming a drug dealer is a great way to pay for school. The latter of which bugged me because Shane is rather against Debbie selling her products to kids.
David is a traditional kid. He strongly believes in his tribe’s old ways and seems to struggle with his sexuality as he wants to keep hiding what he has with Shane from everyone he can. He also has a little bit of a selfish streak as he wants Shane in his life, but is rather reluctant to leave the res and have a good life together.
Tara, Ashley, and Kyle are the main-player side characters that sadly feel under-developed. Tara secretly writes poetry and has a rather abusive father who – it is heavily implied – get’s a little too hands-y with his daughter while he’s drunk. Ashley is the friend and her main purpose is really just to get mad at Shane. Kyle is Debbie’s nephew and is a typical douche bag who thinks he can be inappropriate with any girl who crosses his path regardless of his relationship with Ashley or if the girl in question is in a relationship herself.
The Issues [ spoilers / trigger warning ]
I have several large issues with this novel, but I’m only going to list a few. First off, the journal entries from Tara felt out of place in a third-person present narrative. She writes in the first person past-tense and these chapters didn’t really move the story forward.
Next are the selfish behaviours of David and Shane. Shane continues to go out with Tara despite that he’s cheating on her with David. It’s one thing to have “a beard” when the girl is privy to the situation – still unfair but at least everyone is on the same page – but this is blatant cheating that is encouraged by David to the point where Shane doesn’t even mind because he is also convinced he loves Tara as well. They fight all the time and say hurtful things to each other constantly. It’s a form of internalized homophobia that hurts everyone. Even readers.
Third of all, the sexual assault seemed unnecessary and Tara’s suicide seemed like overkill. Not only that but even if the moments weren’t out of place, it made very little sense for Kyle to be the rapist that pushed Tara over the edge. It’s mentioned several times that Tara’s father is a pervert, even more so when he’s drunk, and implied that he has groped her at the very least in the past. Shane even mentions that she keeps a chair in her room to barricade the door and prevent her father from coming into her room at night. He’s the more obvious villain at this point and would be more of a reason for Tara to feel the need to end her life rather than Kyle – who she could have just reported to the police.
Lastly, there is no real villain. Debbie isn’t a villain until Shane robs her. Kyle isn’t a villain until it’s revealed he raped Tara. There’s no motivation in this story and nothing to fight against other than “the system” for the majority of the novel. It’s lack luster in a character driven story to introduce these “bad guys” until the very end of the book.
Fire Song is a well-written narrative, but is missing elements that should be necessary and including elements that shouldn’t. I feel it would have been a much stronger novel should it have focused more on the injustices First Nations people face in Canada rather than on the very poor decision making of a young man who has lost his sister to suicide and his mother to grief. Not my favourite novel, but not a terrible one either.
Author: Adam Garnet Jones
Published: March 13th, 2018
Publisher: Annick Press
Synopsis: Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she’s too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves—his friend, David.
Things go from bad to worse as Shane’s dream of going to university is shattered and his grieving mother withdraws from the world. Worst of all, he and David have to hide their relationship from everyone. Shane feels that his only chance of a better life is moving to Toronto, but David refuses to join him. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.