August 07, 2018

Fire Song

Written by Adam Garnet Jones
Annick Press
232 pp.
Ages 14+
March 2018

Maybe the game is rigged and the only way to win is by giving up. (pg. 115)

So much about Shane's life hurts that it's hard to find the faith he needs to help endure it.  It should be full of hope and promise. He's finishing his final year of school and anticipating a move to Toronto for post-secondary. He's smart, given the nickname of "College".  He has a pretty girlfriend, Tara, who adores him. But much is a facade because underneath it all, Shane is a mess of grief, confusion and guilt.

Fire Song begins the day of the memorial for Shane's younger sister Destiny who took her own life six weeks earlier. His mother Jackie is despondent, unwilling to leave Destiny's room, even with the constant ministrations of elder Evie. Fortunately, his Anishinaabe reserve community, the only home he's every known, is tight and supportive.
His heart beats under this ground and the roots of the trees spread through his lungs. (pg. 14)
But Shane has secrets and burdens that are disturbing his potentially bright future. He has just learned that his funding for school isn't available from his reserve because he is registered with his father's reserve, though his father is long passed and Shane never lived there. School wants a hefty deposit but Jackie hasn't worked since Destiny's death. Moreover, the roof on their house is disintegrating and, though the materials are in at the store to repair it, his family does not have the money for both the roof and his schooling. But Shane's most emotional struggle comes with balancing his growing sexual relationship with David, Evie's grandson, and his public romantic involvement with Tara, a teen eager to find a new life away from an abusive father and a private writer of introspective prose and poetry.
How can it be
That the smell of home and
the smell of lonely are the same? (pg. 70) 
As Shane tries to keep a roof over their heads and prompt his mother into action, hide his relationship with David while craving it desperately, make some money in a community with few opportunities, and grieve the loss of his sister, his life continues to fray and threaten his future. It's all about choices and not one of them is easy.

Adam Garnet Jones tells Shane's painful story in such expressive prose and poetry, the latter courtesy of Tara's writing, that the reader is carried on a wave from anguish to heartbreak to misery. Shane's story is a tragedy on so many levels: family, school, community, love. But, in each of those circumstances, there are still slivers of buoyancy: a mother who loves him but has abandoned him in her grief; acceptance to school in Toronto, though the money is not at hand; a community of friends who support Shane but would not accept his being a two-spirited person; and a boy and a girl who love him but confound his life's plan.  Adam Garnet Jones may not pretty up Shane's story but he does bring a fitting conclusion to it. I won't tell you if the roof gets fixed or if Shane goes to school in Toronto or if he chooses David or Tara, but I can tell you that things get worse before they get better but better they do. With acceptance of his choices and the life he needs, Shane survives another day to love and be loved.


Fire Song is based on a film by the same name, written and directed by Adam Garnet Jones and produced by Fire Song Films Inc. and Big Soul Productions Inc. I encourage readers to check out the trailer for Fire Song which premiered at TIFF in 2015.

Retrieved from YouTube at on August 6, 2018. 
Uploaded by TIFF Trailers on August 13, 2015.

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