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 pedophilia, rape
Friends… I wish I knew how to start this review. I have been conflicted and have been at a loss on how to express my reading experience. For starters, this was the OMG She’s Indigenous July pick! The second thing you should know, I’m not an own voice reviewer for this. Yes, I’m Apache, but I can’t comment on the fact that this takes place on an Anishinaabe reserve. I can’t make comments on the way the community and cultural elements are represented in this book. I can only make comments relating to Apache culture and beliefs. What I can comment on and will be commenting on is the details, the characters, the problematic issues, and just my general reading experience. The other thing you need to know about this book, it’s a film to book adaptation and they might as well be two separate things.
Fire Song follows our main character Shane, who’s still feeling the weight of the loss from the suicide of his sister. With his mother slipping into depression, bills pilling up, and everything around him falling apart, Shane wants nothing more than to leave for Toronto to further his education. To be with his his boyfriend and best friend, David. Things are never that simple. With the community telling him to stay, a girlfriend who’s pressuring him at every corner, Shane comes to a crossroad and will have to make a choice.
Let me start by saying, please practice self-care while reading this book. There are a lot of heavy topics throughout this entire book. There were times where I had to set the book down, take long breaks, and take care of myself. And if you do watch the movie, know that’s a lot darker than the book. I will also be talking about a lot of these things throughout my review. So please, please take care of yourself and your mental health while reading this book, watching the movie, or reading this review.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews and seen a lot of comments about how terrible of a character Shane was throughout this entire book. I’ll be honest, I strongly disliked everyone except Shane. For the entire book, Shane is juggling a large expanse of things. You have to understand that he’s a young adult, taking on so much, and as someone who has gone through a lot of hardships back to back, he was the most relatable character to me as a character. He’s taking care of his mother, he’s trying to figure out a way to repair the roof and manage his home, has an Uncle that constantly makes him feel horrible, a community pressuring him to staying and basically telling him to give up his education, has a “girlfriend” who’s constantly pressuring Shane into things and even has a scene where she rapes him, David is constantly manipulating and emotionally/mentally abusing Shane, he keeps seeing the ghost of his sister, and on top of all of that, trying to come up with the funds to go to Toronto for his education. With all of these things, Shane is emotionally and mentally taking on a lot. He’s forced into situations he’s uncomfortable with, there’s a consistent theme of him feeling backed into a corner, and it ultimately leads to his finally breaking down multiple times.
“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.“
As I mentioned, Shane’s “girlfriend”, Tara isn’t that great of a character. We do get some chapters from her perspective and I’ll be frank, I didn’t like spending time in her perspective. Multiple times throughout this book, Shane makes it very clear how he feels about her. Tara is constantly inserting herself into places where Shane never asked her to be. For example, there’s a part in the book where she tells everyone she’s going to Toronto with Shane and in turn, Shane gets very upset by her doing this. I also mentioned that she ends up raping Shane. There’s a few scenes where she tries to pressure Shane into having sex with her to which he challenges with, “Why do you always have to touch me?” Then there’s a scene later on where they both go to this abandon house/shed and when she asked them if they’re going to get intimate, Shane responds with, “Yeah, I guess. I think so.” That’s not consent, bottom line. And I don’t stand for the way that whole entire scene was handled in the first place. She even tries to pressure Shane into saying “I love you” back to her. And later on in the book, even though Shane is clearly not coping well with everything, there’s a moment in Tara’s perspective how Shane owes her and rants about how terrible a person he is, even though he can barely cope with the things happening in his own life. In contrast, the movie portrays Tara in an entirely different light, one that made me extremely uncomfortable and furious.
I could keep going on and on about all the things that were problematic throughout this book. My best recommendation is to go watch the live show we hosted where we talked about movie vs. book. In the live show we go into more details of the issues.
Despite the bad elements about this book (believe me, there’s plenty), there’s a lot of important topics that come up. One of the biggest topics that comes up throughout this book is how we never seem to care enough about people while they’re living, but when they commit suicide, everyone suddenly cares. It’s such an important topic that isn’t often discussed in books and I wish we would’ve had more time spent on that because of how important it is. I also appreciate the author taking the time to show that men are also raped especially due to rarely ever seeing this talked about in media or books.
I also really liked the way grief was portrayed throughout this book. In the times that I’ve experienced grief and witnessed grief, I think it was a brilliant way of showing the reality of grief. We also see the difference of Shane’s grief compared to his mother, Jackie. Jackie’s grief is very passive and quiet, but Shane’s grief starts out very small and turns into something bigger. Think of Shane’s grief like a glass in the sink, while it’s sitting in the sink you have the faucet filling it up with water and then you forget about the turned on faucet and glass. That’s how Shane’s grief is. He becomes so full of emotions and conflict that it starts to pour out of him. It’s kind of the same way the house is too. First, it starts off with small things in the house and then is escalates to a pile up in the sink, no more groceries, and the ceiling falling to shambles. I also loved the way things were handled with moving on from the grief at the end. That really touched my heart and reminded me of the way we do certain things in my family.
Speaking of the ending, I really loved the ending of this book. I think the ending of this book is very underrated. You really feel that sense of family, the sense of love, and I just had a deep appreciation for how it played out. It was the positive note that this book really needed. There were parts at the end that reminded me of my own family and it was just one of those ends that touched a little piece of my heart.
Overall, I don’t want to waste more time talking about this. There’s so much to unpack with this book, with the movie, and we would be here all day with my ranting. There were things that I loved, appreciated, but it wasn’t enough to be the focus of this review. Just a reminder, while I’m Apache, I can’t comment on the Anishnaabe cultural elements in this book and if you’re not Anishnaabe, you shouldn’t be making comments about it either. Also, I’d like to recommend checking out our live show because we do go into further details about the book and the movie that aren’t in this review.