How can Shane reconcile his feelings for David with his desire for a better life?
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.
With deep insight into the life of Indigenous people on the reserve, this book masterfully portrays how a community looks to the past for guidance and comfort while fearing a future of poverty and shame. Shane’s rocky road to finding himself takes many twists and turns, but ultimately ends with him on a path that doesn’t always offer easy answers, but one that leaves the reader optimistic about his fate.
Over the last ten years, Adam Garnet Jones (Cree/Métis/ Danish) has written and directed a series of award-winning films that toured the international film circuit from Toronto to L.A., Sydney, Berlin and Beijing.
Adam released his first dramatic feature-length film, “Fire Song”, at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2015. “Fire Song” went on to win the Air Canada Audience Choice Award at ImagineNATIVE, the world’s largest Indigenous Media Arts Festival before picking up three more audience choice awards and two jury prizes for best film. Even before the film was green-lit for production, the script for “Fire Song” won the WGC's Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize. “Fire Song” can be seen now on Netflix USA.
Adam is currently in the midst of the release for his second feature, "Great Great Great", which picked up awards for Best Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Performance when it premiered this year at the Canadian Film Festival.
Not content to work only in film, Adam has also distinguished himself as a television writer. He wrote scripts for the series “Cashing In” and “Mohawk Girls." He also had a hand in creating the upcoming series, “The North End” with Big Soul Productions. He will be shadowing Shawn Piller on Global's "Private Eyes." Next up, Adam is developing a one hour dramatic TV series of his own, called "Unfit."
So the thing about this book is it’s… a good book that doesn’t go very far. I really dark and didn’t give me the emotional payoff I wanted from that darkness.
I hate saying this because this word has gotten emptier by the year, but this is actually a really important story. This story is ownvoices for both mlm representation and Native American representation. Culture and tradition is woven into the very fabric of this novel, along with a heavy focus on homophobia and drug use in these communities.
But I just honestly… didn’t connect enough to the characters to find it very memorable? I kept waiting for long character arcs for Shane and David and they NEVER CAME. Which was weird. And I wanted more from the characters.
I will say the writing was really solid and perfect. And the ending was a really powerful statement on homophobia. There's a lot of interesting stuff here that just... doesn't quite get played around with.
overall: I really wish I had loved this as much as I thought it would, and while I thought it wasn’t an utterly horrible book, it just didn't totally work for me? While I didn't really emotionally connect, it was solidly a good book.
Shane is still numb from the shock of his sister's suicide, Destiny. It was all so sudden, so quick. How could he have missed all of the signs of her depression? And worse, his mother is slowly turning into a ghost, withdrawing from the rest of the world – and Shane. When Tara, his girlfriend, proves too absorbed in her own worries to comfort Shane, he turns to his best friend, David. But he is still too scared to tell the world about his relationship with David. That's why he wants to move away to Toronto, where he and David can be themselves. Shane's world shatters even more when he finds out he might not have enough to go to college, which was his life's ambition. While he turns to other, more immoral means of getting the money, Tara struggles with her emotions and abuse from her father. If God really did let you choose what you want your life to be like before you're born (as the Anishinaabe stories say), they really, REALLY messed up.
In this beautifully written and tragic novel about life on the reserve, Jones tackles devastating problems that continue to plague Native Americans today. He eloquently portrays the teens' daily struggles with physical and sexual abuse, unemployment, drug, and alcohol abuse, fighting between Native American bands, sexuality, suicide, and conflicts between traditional ways vs Christianity. Tara's poems are both vulnerable and heart-wrenching, showing her inner thoughts about her relationship with Shane and her worries about the future. However, Jones also uses articulate and powerful prose to describe Shane's vital and beautiful connection with nature on the reserve.
Jones provides readers with a masterful novel of how an Anishinaabe teen travels through the strenuous road of his community's poverty-stricken past to find better hopes for the future. -Javni, SPL Teen Volunteer
This book was provided for free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is a hard book. Like really, really hard--so hard that I had to put the book down and stop a few times because the darkness is thick and relentless and creeps up right when you think it might finally be going away. But it's a well-crafted story that never takes the easy way out and ends on a realistic note for its young characters and tumultuous setting.
An "our voices" read, this story is by a Canadian First Nations author who, according to his online bio, knows all too well what it means to be a part of a group with skyrocketing suicide, alcoholism, and addiction rates while still trying to maintain a culture that so many people want to see disappear. Transition is a major theme in this book--the transition from childhood to adulthood, from hiding to coming out, from home to "outside," from old ways to new ways.
The protagonist, Shane, is more than ready to get off his reserve and into a new life as a college student in Toronto, but his ex-boyfriend, David, who he still loves, wants to find a way to remain on the res and keep his culture alive. Shane is still struggling after his sister Destiny's suicide, and his strained relationship with his girlfriend Tara, who deals with intense abuse in her own home, threatens to keep him away from the future he's so carefully constructed in his mind. On top of everything else, Shane finds out there's no money to send him to college, and his house is falling apart on top of his depressed and withdrawn mother.
Shane's community doesn't want him to succeed, but that is isn't always on purpose. He is looking at a bigger picture outside of the reserve, while the family and friends he's known all his life are tying to make it work inside. It's never easy and often heartbreaking, especially since you can tell Shane still has a deep connection to his culture that cannot be wished away with big city plans. There's no lack of detail involved in describing Shane's everyday life--the intense poverty, the familial abuse, the date rape, the alcoholism, the lack of community resources for mental health and education. It's just his life. It has always been that way. And seeing him try to claw his way out of it, page after page, is distressing, exhausting, and sometimes feels more like punishment than a satisfying character arc.
After a particularly devastating climax, I was ready to move on from this book. I'm not a squeamish reader, and I don't abandon books just because they're sad or difficult--that sort of defeats the points of plot and conflict. But the infliction of pain on these young characters needed to give way to something else, and it didn't quite get there until the last quarter of the story. It is ultimately rewarding, well-done, and fitting for the narrative, but it takes a while to get there, and I imagine it will be too much for some readers--readers who have both experienced similar events and cannot even fathom them.
This book is technically an adaptation of the film of the same name by the same author. I haven't watched it yet, but I can definitely see how this book blends into something more cinematic. The dialogue and the way the scenes and imagery flow together make it read like a script at times--not a bad thing, just different. I also think the climax of will be an extremely tough moment to watch.
Jones is obviously a skilled writer who doesn't pull his punches. He knows these characters, knows this setting. He's good at visuals and dialogue, but also with those quiet moments between characters. This is a tough story, especially for younger readers, but it's worth it.
Trigger warnings: homophobia, mentions of abuse, suicide, violence
This is as heart-breaking as it’s resilient. I haven’t seen the movie it’s based on, but I’m sure I would need a whole box of tissues if I watched it.
I don’t know why, but I always thought Indigenous people would be more accepting of LGBT+ people. Might be because they tecognise two-spirited as a valid gender. How wrong I was.
I’m not saying this is a representation of all Indigenous peoples, because it’s not. It’s a small picture of a single Anishinaabe reservation, where some follow their ancestral culture while others have turned their back on it.
And that’s where the whole power of this story lies. Reading it, I recognized all the problems that Indigenous peoples have been calling out for decades: drugs and alcohol, rampant abuse, rape, suicide, deceased and disappeared women. All in rates much higher than any other communities in Canada.
The heart breaking part is knowing this is real. This is an ongoing problem that Indigenous peoples face constantly. The resilience comes from Shane’s refusal to accept it. Even when he gives up, he doesn’t. Not really. And it doesn’t change everything, but it makes things a little better. And a little can go a long way.
4.5 stars JUST BECAUSE i hated the cheating trope so much but i did love this book very much, the way grief was written was so real, and also the fact that this is the first indigenous lgbt book i’ve ever read is crazy. even though i had to read it for school, i genuinely enjoyed reading it and wanna read more books by adam garnet jones
OMG She's Indigenous July Pick! We'll be discussing both the book and the movie!
🔥 Dates & Breakdown:
July 18th: Chapters 1 - 4 July 19th: Chapters 5 - 8 July 20th: Chapters 9 - 12 July 21st: Chapters 13 - 16 July 22nd: Chapters 17 - 20 July 23rd: Chapters 21 - 24 July 24th: Chapters 25 - 29
Liveshow: July 26th, 2020 | 7 p.m. CST/8 p.m. EST My channel
Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a loved one, suicide, grief, depression, cheating, homophobia, violence/gunviolence, drugs/drug dealing, underage drinking, fatphobia, bullying, mention of police brutality, death, misandry, mentions of rape and pedophilia
Maybe everyone else is exactly the same, and he's the one that's been exchanged for another version of himself, one that's attracted to guys, one that sees spirits and deals drugs to teenagers.
Score - 77%
I received a free advanced digital copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book is extremely well-written, and now that I know it's based off a film directed by the author, I can understand that. In it, we get a great insight to culture on an Anishinaabe reservation in Canada. The interweaving themes of tradition and sexuality and loss.
Even though this was so lovely to read, I had two major problems with it. One, the characters were very unlikable. I especially really did not like the love interest. Now, it's definitely great to have characters who aren't perfectly good, characters who reflect real life. But, it made it very hard to sympathize with everything that happened. Did I sympathize? Yes. But only after a while.
My second problem is that it's virtually plotless. There are things that happen, but not until the second half of the book. The first half is pain and sorrow and dealing with being gay, and that's fine. Really, it was beautifully written and entertaining. The problem, again, lies within the characters. Since I didn't like them too much, it was hard to enjoy even the spaces of nothingness.
However, this is a really quick, lovely read. I think it definitely benefits from the beautiful prose and the realistic characters and situations. It's not a happy book, but it's real.
Trigger warning for suicide and mentions of rape/pedophilia.
I received this book for free from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. If you've read my other reviews, you'll know that if it's bad, I'll say so, regardless of how I received the book.
Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while. —Malorie Blackman
This quote is one thing I love about stories. There are so many things I’ll never experience, but stories help me live lives that aren’t mine. Some are delightful, and some are graphically brutal. Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones is the latter. I can relate to not fitting into the community you’re born into and struggling to break out of the norms. But I am not native to either of the countries I’ve lived in, and I have the skin tone that’s considered “normal.”
That’s why I thank Adam Garnet Jones for writing the screenplay, and then this book of life on a Canadian Indian Reserve.
It’s easy to be despondent or write off the real-life people inspiring this novel. Fire Song is fiction, but it’s the story of hundreds of young adults. It’s hard for Shane to follow his dreams. He wants to go to university in Toronto and learn urban development to come back and help his family and the tribe. Except his sister recently committed suicide (the latest in a long list of tribe members to do it or be murdered), his mother can barely function in her grief, he has to choose between using the insurance money from his father’s death to cover university or replace the rotted roof on his mother’s house, his secret boyfriend is in the tribe. Then his girlfriend announces she’s leaving with him, and funding for university is stalled because of tribal memberships and budgets. And the adults in the tribe see the city as a terrible place and don’t want him to leave.
Fire Song is written with two voices. It’s mainly Shane’s story as the primary narrator, but we also have his girlfriend, Tara’s diary entries. The mix works well. They both have hard lives, and Tara describes her confusion with Shane. Doesn’t he want her? He’s not that physical. Then we have Shane’s side. Being gay just isn’t done on the Reserve and Shane’s careful that no one finds out about David. He knows what he wants, but feels it’s not possible. Shane can’t be himself when he needs to support his mom. And he’s processing his sister’s death. He knows his friends are asking why didn’t he stop it. He’s asking himself the same thing. Why didn’t he see it?
I suppose I should have added a trigger warning earlier. This story is brutal and real. From the time chatting with a Boys and Girls Club director on a Tulalip reservation in Washington state, and also from movies like, Once Were Warriors, Fire Song tells similar stories. Physical abuse is rampant. As is drug and alcohol abuse. Suicide is seen as the only way out. The behavior is cyclical and hard to break. Shane is told that because he’s smart, he could get a job in construction. To the speaker that’s as far as he can imagine. Academia is so foreign, he just can’t imagine it.
I regret starting Fire Song immediately after A Thousand Perfect Notes. Both stories are so well-written, and the characters in both have such harsh experiences that I had to put Fire Song down for a few days. Emotionally it was too much. I recommend both novels, but be warned they aren’t warm and fuzzy. But for a spoiler, both end well.
This was quite a slow book... but it needed to be slow somehow. The subject matter is heavy and weighed down the reader a lot. Shane, the main character, deals with suicide, depression, sexuality, addictions, mental illness and violence, all within a culture struggling to survive. There are few rose coloured glasses here. That said, the author has some beautiful turns of phrase and spectacular metaphors that seem to lift the story. I'm. It sure I'm being clear enough but I really recommend this one.
Adam Garnet Jones wrote one of my favorite stories in the anthology Love After the End, so I was excited to pick up his novel. I found myself easily immersed in Shane's story, especially the exploration of being a young gay Indigenous person on a small reservation with no queer visibility.
Cw for suicide, alcoholism and drug abuse, incest, rape.
They say to make a good story, you have to take your protagonist, stick him in a tree, and throw rocks at him. If that is the case, then Shane, in this story, has a lot of rocks being thrown at him. The book opens with the suicide of his sister, and his world goes downhill from there. Plus, he is trying to get to college, and the band (the tribe) has no money for him to go, because of technicalities, and lack of money. Plus he is in love with his best friend, David, plus his mother is still mourning his sister, six weeks after he death.
With all that going on, he doesn’t know how he could possible come out.
If this sounds as though it is too depressing to read, I have to admit it reminds me of how I almost didn’t finish reading Oliver Twist, back when I first read it. Things had gone so badly for him, I couldn’t imagine how he would ever be saved. Like that book, this one makes it look as though there is no way out, which is often how things are when you don’t stop to think.
Through it all, Shane has such eloquent ways of saying things. I kept marking quote after quote as being so special. Here are some examples:
Maybe he saw her as nothing more than a stick of kindling to be burned. But if he had grown up here, he would know that even a stick of firewood is filled with a spirit that can’t be burned away
Some songs are like a heartbeat that fills up the dark, empty places inside you with light, but today this song feels like sex.
The story feels very real, and very raw. Suicide is a very real problem amongst First Nations people, and this book does not tread lightly around it.
It is not a light read, but it is a good read, and I think it should be read. It was also, first a movie, by the same author. I will seek it out.
Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
Candid, visceral, and heart breaking. This book digs under your skin. The prose is gorgeous and vivid, expressing a complex range of emotions with precision and nuance. This book will hurt and then heal you.
there was one part that I felt uncomfortable about, which was a scene where the main character, Shane, thinks to himself that suicide passes your pain to other people, which feels like the kind of unhelpful guilt tripping that's supposed make people want to keep living but instead paints people who die by suicide as selfish and callous and even malicious toward the people who care them.
CW/TWs: suicide, death of a sibling, alcohol, drugs, homomisia, sex, rape
Consider this 4.5 or 4.75 stars. This is the best and most hard-hitting indigenous YA book I've read so far. At first I was a little distracted by the third person present tense narrative (which is my least favourite tense/pov) but the writing was beautiful and meaningful and the story was engaging enough for me to forget about that most of the time. This story follows a boy, Shane, who has just graduated high school and was looking forward to getting away from his reservation (in Northern Ontario possibly?) by going to university and studying so that he can come back and help his community better; but his life and the community are shattered by his younger sister's suicide. The book is a downward spiral of Shane experiencing grief while trying to deal with everything else in his life and take care of his mom who has shut down, and so Shane has no one to take care of him and his life starts to spiral out of control. Shane losing his bases of support until he is left with only one, the love of his life who wants to keep their relationship a secret because they're both afraid of how their families and the community will react if they come out. David is very good, I liked him as a character a lot.
It is a snapshot of life on a reservation, rampant with conflicting ideologies and spirituality, frustration with the government and with the higher ups in the band, drugs and alcohol, houses falling apart with mold, and the deteriorating mental health of everyone with the variety of sh*t they have to deal with every day. Eye-opening, you could say. A reminder, yet again, that this country needs to do better. And very well written.
I have a few quotes to share.
When he goes online to see how the rest of the country lives, it feels like Indians are the only people without options or choices. Pinned down under the thumb of the government with a whole agency determining where they live, how much money they have access to, how they can develop their land, who belongs to the community, and who doesn't. A whole bureaucracy set up to tell Anishnaabe people who they are and what they can be. An army of smiling people in government offices and band offices saying "we want to help!" and then explaining why they can't. - pg. 30
How can it be that the smell of home and the smell of lonely are the same? - pg. 70
He is dissolving. Cell by cell. Not carried away by the current, but carried deeper into the world, filling the spaces between the molecules of the earth, the air, and the water, with life. His own life. It's like seeing the whole world and being inside the sking of every creature at once. Like hearing all the songs and dancing all the dances, living the lives of every person, every rock, every try at the same time. - pg. 211
He wishes he could walk through the world so lightly that he'll never make a mark, never hurt anyone, or take up space. But it's impossible. He changed the world the moment he took his first breath and his mother kissed the top of his head. Being alive changes things. It just does. He can choose to do good or bad, but he can't do nothing. Everything he says and does matters. Living is a choice. Dying is a choice too, but dying is a choice that affects more than just himself. It's a choice to hurt the ones he loves. Seems like the only way out is to live, no matter how much it hurts. - pg. 211
Okay, that's all I have to say. This is a good book.
Wow, what an incredible piece of fiction that touches on so many and in some ways, uncomfortable topics as we follow along on this downward spiral of grief and the unintentional domino effect our actions could have on those we love.
I have never read anything that dealt with Native culture and so going into this book I was excited to see how that community dealt with some of the themes that play out over the course of this novel and it just broke my heart.
There was a sense of skirting around the problem, whether it be suicide or another one of the issues mentioned over the course of the book, and pretending like it doesn’t exist until it happens and you can’t run from it anymore and that was a big weight Shane had to carry in regards to his sister’s suicide and desire to move on with his life even if it meant leaving others behind, David with his sexuality and finding a balance between who he is and his culture, and finally Tara as discussed in her journal writing and poetry intermixed between the main narration.
It’s difficult to write more because I don’t wish to spoil anything but the whole time I was reading all I wanted to do was hug everyone and let them know that it was okay to talk about things and just listen so all of those thoughts, emotions and the darkness in their past didn’t eat at them from the inside until it had nowhere else to go but out into the open where, like in the book itself, it would end up as just another picture in a scrapbook of pain and suffering locked away in a safe where no one could see or do anything to change it for the better.
**thank you to netgalley for proving an arc in exchange for a fair and honest review**
This review is for the audiobook. I will change the version when I'm off mobile.
In the middle of the story, the book gripped me, as things kept moving forward and driving Shane deeper and deeper into murky waters. The end I thought resolved a little too easily, but one of the themes of the story is forgiveness, so I can get over it.
The setting context of Northwest Ontario I thought was important to understand, with the frequent allusion to the rich kids of Toronto and the contrast with rez politics and Shane's family's poverty. Residential school is mentioned once, but how many of the other neighbours were suffering from intergenerational trauma? That dynamic wasn't explored, but is an undertone. A set date would have been useful to explore the context as well. Is it a time of activism, water protectors, and anti-pipeline movements? Does this line up with the suicide epidemic experienced by Indigenous teens? I suppose it's in character for Shane to be absorbed by his own crisis rather than external conflicts.
Audiobook specific: I liked the reader, although their voice was very soft sometimes. They modulated their voice for different speakers, varied in pace to match the intensity, and could reproduce vernacular well. Sometimes their voice was a little monotone, making it a bit hard to focus, but that wasn't often.
When Shane's sister committed suicide, his mother withdrew into herself. She spends her days in his sister's room - doesn't work, doesn't eat. Shane is left trying to care for himself and his mother, but with no job and no money, how can he do that? He seeks solace in his girlfriend, but what he really wants is to spend time with his maybe-boyfriend, David. Shane is convinced that moving to Toronto would give him and David a fresh start, but David isn't ready for that much adventure just yet. How could they stay on the reservation, though, and keep their relationship hidden?
This is not a happy book, but as it's about a boy grieving over his sister's suicide, I didn't expect a happy book. I can't speak to the descriptions of First Nations reservations or the experience these characters have while living on a reservation in Canada. This is not a fast-paced book or necessarily an exciting book, but it is a good and necessary story, and some readers may take solace in it.
Recommended for: teens Red Flags: suicide, homophobic language, violence (including guns), underage drinking and drug use Overall Rating: 4/5 stars
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purposes of review.
Shane is dealing with layers and layers and layers of shit.
His sister just killed herself. His mom won't leave her bed. The literal roof of their house is caving in. His love life is a tangle too. His girlfriend wants more. The person he loves won't talk about leaving the reservation with him. Shane is running out of options.
This does NOT read like a book based on a movie. Which is something I mean as a compliment. Obviously it's critical that the director/screenwriter is the author here. Jones writes from the heart. The ownvoices intersectionality is what made me pick this up. And, although it's a tough read, I found it engrossing. And convicting. And real. I took it out to local high schools for a recent booktalking tour.
"It seems like people are always saying There is help out there but not for you, not right now. ... An army of smiling people in government offices and band offices saying “we want to help!” and then explaining why they can’t." (pg. 30)
*Pick for the month of July's OMG She's Indigenous book club
I...am so conflicted. I found this at my library in 2019 hoping to read it for my first time host of IndigAThon. Sadly, I didn't get to it, so I put it on my wishlist. One of my many mamas bought it for me, and it sat on my shelf until I mentioned this to Autumn and we chose it. First off...there's so much wrong with this movie-to-book adaptation. I feel like the movie and the book both shit on Shane ridiculously. Tara...oh god, the most annoying girlfriend character in the history of annoying. I hated how in the movie she's painted as this victim, when in reality, she's a rapist and mentally abusive to Shane. Almost everyone shits on Shane, even David, whos's supposed to be his boyfriend. But everyone is trying to keep him contained to the reserve. Honestly there's so much wrong with it that I can't even write it all. The only thing that satisfied me with this was the way grief is explained in Native terms, and the way Shane feels it vs his mother. The house gets dirty, the roof starts leaking a little harder, until the house can't take it anymore.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
An emotional tale of a young Indigenous boy, Shane, dealing with his sister's suicide, his mother's detachment from reality, and his own struggles to come out. As he yearns to escape the rez, Shane tries everything he can to get money for university in Toronto but the obstacles of life on a First Nations reservation keep getting in the way. This book brings to light the struggles of modern day Native youth, dealing with the scars of the past and the dismissal of aid and proper funding from the Canadian government. I definitely recommend this book.
This book was a very very good read. I was completely invested in all of the characters, the world that was built around them was perfectly clear to me, without being overly descriptive, and the culture and daily life of Canadian First Peoples was portrayed wonderfully. This is a shining example of what inter-sectional literature can be. Shane and the rest of the characters go on unique and compelling arcs, showing the different parts of each of their personalities. Trigger Warning: this book deals with Suicide, a lot.
This was a powerful novel. I couldn't put it down. No one warned me that their would be triggers for Death, Suicide, Self harm, and many more. That took me a bit to get my emotions through some of those parts. I did have a few issues with the writing and with it was a bit better, but for a Debut novel by an Author who normally writes screenplays, I think he did a good job. This was a book written based on a movie with the same name. I will definitely be checking out the movie and also future works from this Author.
3.5/5 A strong 4 star book right until the last few chapters, only because it wrapped up way too quickly compared to the rest of the book. It's crazy because I read this book thinking the movie was based on this and I wanted to have the full background, only to realize halfway that the book is actually based on the movie..
A beautifully written novel about grief and love and not fitting in. Every character is lovingly drawn and the story kept me on the edge of my seat. The author's insights into the angst of relationships were spot-on. Very well done.