Fire Song by Adam Garnet JonesFire Song by Adam Garnet Jones

Fire Song

byAdam Garnet Jones

Paperback | March 13, 2018

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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.

Adam Garnet Jones (Ka-nîpawit Iskotêk) is a Cree filmmaker and writer. Fire Song is an adaptation of his award-winning feature film of the same name. Adam lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Title:Fire SongFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:232 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.8 inShipping dimensions:8.25 × 5.5 × 0.8 inPublished:March 13, 2018Publisher:Annick PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1554519772

ISBN - 13:9781554519774

Appropriate for ages: 14 - 14


Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Story of Aboriginal LGBTQ Youth with Some Execution Problems Fire Song was originally released into the world in the form of an indie film, written and directed by Adam Garnet Jones. Turns out the guy is super multi-talented because his first attempt at a novel isn't too shabby either. The story stars Shane who's lived in an Ontario reserve with his family all his life. Shane has his girlfriend, Tara, but in the past year and a half, a secret relationship began to bloom between him and a boy named David. Despite not being able to disclose his sexuality to his family and friends, the future didn't seem all too bad for Shane. Then his sister Destiny committed suicide. And everything got flipped upside-down. Shane is a likeable character (at least in the beginning--we'll get back to this in a bit). His efforts to juggle grief, two relationships, and the possibility of a higher education are easy to empathize with. You find yourself rooting for him to find peace and happiness. I didn't find the side characters all that well-developed, however. The problem is that this is such a short book and we only get small glimpses for most of them. David, for example. There's little to him besides the fact that he's Shane's secret boyfriend and seriously into their ancestral culture. We don't really get to see the qualities that made Shane fall in love with him in the first place. But what I did love about these teenagers is that they do everything with so much intensity. They lust deeply. They love deeply. And they hurt and get hurt deeply. It's a double-edged sword, this openness--this unrestrained energy--but it's what I think defines teenagehood. And Jones does a terrific job of showing it. I also loved the contrast between the prose and the subject matter. The latter is stark and doesn't shy away from heavy topics--sex, drugs, drinking, death. It could have easily become an overly grim story if not for the prose. There's such a quiet, dreamy quality to the writing that not only balances out the harshness but softens it out to a manageable level. I also really liked how the story educates you on what a life in rez might be like for Aboriginal youth without sounding like a pamphlet. The injustice and setbacks that these kids face is depicted in the emptiness that follows Destiny's death. In Shane's struggles to help out his mother and pay his way to university at the same time. In the scrapbook of rez kids who have been murdered or committed suicide. In the anger that roils through Shane at the helplessness of it all. These are major issues regarding First Nations communities that plague Canada, one that the government has yet to fully address, and Jones presents them well with a lot of heart and raw emotions. "But it sounds like you have a truckload of praises for the book. Why the bad score?" First of all, 3/5 is not a bad score. Secondly, I did (do) have a lot of praise for the book. But then I got past the halfway mark and things started to...unravel a bit. The chapters alternate from Shane's POV to chapters that are solely diary entries by Tara. From the start, I'm wasn't too keen on the latter. It felt like cheating--telling what the character's really feeling without having to actually show any of it in Shane's narrative. Then out of nowhere comes this one scene near the end, and without getting into spoilers, it was clear that showing so little of Tara outside of the diary was a detrimental decision. From there, the pacing took a nose-dive and things turned crazy hectic. Shane's personality was all over the place. One minute he's snuggling with David and the next he's pushing him away and planning the world's worst amateur heist and physically threatening an old woman. And all of this was happening in a matter of days. I felt majorly whiplashed; it seemed like there was a large chunk of segue missing between the middle and the end of the story. The ending is a hopeful one, though. Which I appreciated. And I do love the spotlight shone on the LGBTQ Aboriginal youth of Canada. It's an important story, to be sure, with some issues of execution. My hope is that stories like these pave the way to similar ones in Canadian literature in the future. (I received a ARC from Netgalley and Annick Press for an honest review)
Date published: 2018-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great book to open up discussions with your teen Shane is torn between the person he is on the inside and the person he feels he needs to be on the outside. In secret, he loves his boyfriend David and how close and understanding they are of each other and their needs. On the outside, he is attentive to his girl friend Tara and goes through the motions expected of a dating couple. At the same time he is struggling to accept the recent suicide of his younger sister Destiny and how it has devastated their mom. He has been relying on Evie, a tribal elder, to help keep his mom at all functioning and yet he keeps hiding his relationship with her grandson. A gay male on the rez is far from being an accepted thing. Attending a university far from the rez is Shane's dream. He figures it will be the only way for him to have a future with David. Of course, it's far more complicated than he can cope with at that time. I thought that this was going to be a nice romance between two young men on a rez, but it turned out to be much more. First, Shane had to deal with his feelings of his mom letting him down during the toughest time of his life when he really needed her guidance. The time had arrived when he had to address and fully embrace his sexual nature. This wasn't easy to do on a reserve where male gay relationships were greeted with hostility. What it brought to light for me was the politics that exist between the various tribes. In my mind, I had an image of the different tribes working closely together for the benefit of all indigenous peoples. I was naive in this respect and should have realized that each tribe/reserve is akin to an individual town with respect to bylaws and budgets. Author Adam Garnet Jones really made me think and question what I thought were truths and any biases I held. This would be an excellent study novel in high school classes. Parents and teachers should be sure to check the study guide for this book at Annick Press. I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Indigo Books & Music in exchange for an honest review. Cover image courtesy Annick Press.
Date published: 2018-01-01

Read from the Book

Chapter 1Shane is awake, wishing he wasn’t. The alarm clock makes a soft warning click before flooding the room with staticky Top 40. Too loud. Shane reaches an arm out from under the covers and hits snooze for the third time. It feels better in bed. Not good, but better. As long as his door is closed, no one wants anything from him. No one is asking if he’s okay, as if he’d tell them the truth anyways. He’ll have to make a move eventually, but if he can coax himself into a Drift, he can delay a little longer.Sometimes when he’s upset, the Drift comes in and takes him out like a rogue wave. Whooooosh—he’s somewhere else. Other days, if he can get his mind to stop spinning and if he breathes in the right way, he can call the Drift in. Shane takes a long sip of air, praying for it to fill every unseen part of him. When his chest starts to burn, he lets out the breath in a gentle, focused stream. The Drift begins as a tingle. It starts in his fingertips, then creeps up his arms and over the tender flesh of his neck until it blooms over his eyelids and bursts into a constellation of squirming silver pinpricks thatfill his field of vision. Warmth pulses through his center and guides him out of his body. If only his whole life could have the rush of sweetness that comes during a Drift, when the weight of his limbs drops away and the purest part of him rises high up through the dripping ceiling and out over the top of his house.He floats above the tree line and passes into that magic halfway-place between the earth and the sky. Even on his worst days, the snaking line of the creek and the tree-furred shores of the silver water can stop his heart. It's the home of his ancestors. The place of prophecy, where food grows upon the water. A place where, if you can fly away from the level of the earth and see it all with the eyes of a crow, there will always be balance. No matter how much struggle is skewing the edges of the circle down below. Maybe that’s what his sister was looking for—the eyes of a crow at the end of a rope. Stop thinking of her, Shane tells himself. He shifts his attention to the breeze blowing over his face and lets it rinse the thought clean away.Shane floats out over the houses; first the little old ones like his that have been here the longest, and then on to the crisp siding and double-glazed windows of the bigger places built by people with money. The edge of the reserve is dotted with trailers. People on TV talk about trailers like they are the crap, but Tara’s is bigger than Shane’s house. And if you want to you can pick them up and move them anywhere you want. Not that he’s ever seen one move once it got put down. People are that way too, unless you have your eyes on school. Most people think that if you’re smart, you won’t stick around long. And if you graduate and don’t take off to the city then you probably don’t have much to offer the band anyway. One time Roberta, the school counselor, told Shane that education is like the golden ticket Charlie found in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Shane mentioned it to Tara later and she said that a kid who licks wallpaper and ends up living with a crazy old man in a purple velvet suit isn’t such a great role model. She may be right.The wind changes and Shane Drifts over the dirt road that leads to the sun-bleached wooden benches of the powwow grounds, where the air meets the water at the edge of the lake. People from all over gather here at the height of summer to catch up with faraway family, to show off new babies and new regalia, to sing and dance and laugh and eat, and snag. But even when there’s no one there, the powwow grounds have the shine of the people lighting it up from the inside. It’s like the room of a dying man or the ground where a midwife stands, reaching into the edge of the spirit world. Sacred, you know? His sister, Destiny, was almost crowned powwow princess here last year. She would have been, too, if she had taken the time to braid her hair and finish the details on her regalia the way the other girls did. The judges probably thought she didn’t care enough. But she did care. Not about pulling her hair back or finishing the hemline of her regalia. She just wanted to dance. And she had more grace—more of the healing power of that jingle dress dance—in her than anyone he's ever seen. Shane loved watching her feet move like a whisper over the ground, impossibly soft and quick, almost floating in her moccasins. She was so …And just like that he’s back in his bed again, eyes bulging, and gasping for air like a pickerel flipped onshore. There’s nothing like the half-awake peace of forgetting for a few minutes that your little sister is dead, before reality busts in and pisses all over everything. Shane had felt sad and angry when people in his family and community passed on to the spirit world, but nothing could have prepared him for the sick heat that has been twisting in his guts since the night Destiny did it. No one tells you how much you can hurt and still look normal on the outside.Shane takes deep breath after deep breath, trying to get into another Drift, but it’s no use. He’s not going anywhere. A drop of gray water hangs from the ceiling. It gathers moisture from the soggy drywall, growing and drooping until it splashes into an overflowing bucket. Ripples race out to touch the edges of the bucket, and then disappear. Shane watches the drops grow heavy and fall, each transforming into the energy of tiny waves that dissipate into nothingness. David would see those ripples and say that everything is alive. Shane’s science teacher would say that energy never dies. The idea is the same, but nothing explains what happens when those ripples crash against the wall and the water goes flat.

Editorial Reviews

“The deep, honest, gripping quality of Jones’ writing shines on the page even in Shane’s darkest moments.” —Open Book, 02/20/18

- Open Book