Kai Hunter will not go to foster care. When her grandmother dies and leaves her all alone, she runs away from the Stoney Reserve near Calgary, Alberta, to make a new life for herself.
The brevity of this book hurts it. Part Navajo, part Stoney Nakoda, all attitude, Kai sheds her old life so quickly, even leaving on her vintage motorcycle before her grandmother’s funeral, that readers have little time to get to know her. When Kai reaches Banff, Alberta, her problems are conveniently solved without any effort on her part. After “scoring a job in the first fifteen minutes of arriving in town,” Kai then falls in love. Other than a lingering fear of being caught by the police and Stoney Nakoda Social Services, and an occasional thought to her dead grandmother, Kai enjoys life under her assumed name without any plans to secure her future. When not working, 16-year-old Kai learns about putting out forest fires with her boss’s husband and goes to raucous parties with her boyfriend. Such topics as drug use, sexual assault, and bigotry are mentioned but never developed with the sensitivity they deserve. So many implausible circumstances coalesce to lead to the titular firefight that the book’s climax is unimpressive. The book is for an audience of reluctant readers, accordingly sacrificing depth for pace, but as Mette Bach’s Femme and Brent R. Sherrard’s Fighting Back (both 2015) demonstrate, characterization and nuance can be accomplished successfully within the format.
Despite the compelling premise, this latest book from Guest falls short of its potential. (Fiction. 14-18)