Summary: 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.
Review: Shane is tired. So many, many things are wearing him down. His sister’s death and the grief he’s feeling is obvious and painful, but there are many other things in his life that are overwhelming. He and his mother don’t have money for a new roof and college, but the roof cannot wait. His mother is debilitated by her grief and is no help in decision making or even with day to day care of herself. He is also agonizing about his relationships. He has a girlfriend with issues of her own, but he is also secretly seeing David. Shane is willing to talk about their relationship publicly, but David wants no part of that. Shane has heard of two-spirited people being welcomed, but even he can’t really picture it. He’s eager to be open in spite of the fears though. With all of this swirling around in his life, Shane is trying to hang on and make a path to get away before he gives up on his dreams.
The format of the book is somewhat unique. There are two perspectives. Shane’s point of view is told in third person and is the bulk of the storytelling, but his girlfriend’s point of view is also shown here and there. Her story is in first person as if in a journal and includes her poetry which is often quite moving. I enjoyed Tara’s portion of the story and actually wished for more from her. She’s trying to write herself into existence and be someone “worth seeing, worth being, worth taking care of.”
Grief and how individuals and the community deal with it is a major part of the story. There is a mix of tradition and individuality in the responses. Shane respects traditions, but is also open to doing things in different and new ways. One thing Shane craves is smudging. He loved seeing the smoke curl up over his mother’s shoulders in the mornings. His mother lit the smudge every morning of his life until his sister’s death. The medicine and ceremony are another loss for him as his mother pulls into herself.
The reserve is a big part of the story. The people and their daily life is important, but Shane’s relationship to the place itself is also significant. He feels his ancestors around him there. He isn’t sure he believes in the spirits and doesn’t always understand the teachings of the elders, but he definitely feels a spiritual connection to this place that is his home. “The elders may not be right about everything, but there is something in this place that can’t be explained with language.”
Shane is grappling with his grief, what he believes about his place in the world, his sexuality, and a variety of other things. This is a coming-of-age book with a young man trying to untangle the knots in his life. The end of the book is a bit rushed with many things happening at once, but it was satisfying overall. Fire Song is not easy to read, especially if you have lost a loved one by suicide, but it’s ultimately a hopeful story.
Recommendation: Fire Song is a look into the lives of teens trying to find themselves in the midst of tragedy and pain. Get it soon if you enjoy realistic fiction. It’s a powerful book.