With midterms finally winding to a close, many students are headed home to enjoy a well-deserved rest. What better time than Reading Week to kick back with a good book and see what Canada’s authors have to offer? These new books share diverse voices from across the country from Newfoundland to Saskatchewan, telling stories that reflect Canadian life in 2020.
The Difference by Marina Endicott
One of the Globe and Mail’s Best Books of 2019, Marina Endicott’s The Difference takes a hard look at colonial attitudes in Canada and poses complex questions about the nature of family. From start to finish, Endicott questions the morality of her characters’ actions, despite their best intentions. Set on a Nova Scotian merchant vessel travelling the South Pacific Ocean in 1912, the book views the complex, colonial interactions between the white Canadian sailors and the people of the Melanesian islands. The story is told through the eyes of Kay, the young sister-in-law of the ship’s captain, who at the beginning of the novel is 12 years old. Following the death of her father, the head of a residential school, she joins her newly-married sister aboard her husband’s ship, haunted by memories of life at the school. After her sister has a miscarriage, she’s offered the chance to adopt a young, starving Polynesian boy named Aren by his family in exchange for tobacco. This is a true story that was told to Endicott by a family friend. The sister’s choice to adopt the child opens up a whirlwind of questions: Was it right to take Aren away from his people, and would loving him be enough to balance the ostracization he would endure in a conservative, colonial Canada?
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
A hotly-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, the new offering by Canadian literary legend Margaret Atwood pulls readers back into the dystopian world of Gilead 15 years later. Told from the divided perspectives of Aunt Lydia, a hyper-misogynistic re-education “Aunt,” and sisters Agnes and Daisy, the daughters of the previous novel’s protagonist, Offred, it’s a tale of revolution from below and the strength of female solidarity. The Testaments tells the story of the Underground Femaleroad smuggling women out of Gilead into Canada. It presents challenging questions about the things people do to survive, all while shining a light on how hope and resistance remain despite the harshest of circumstances. Fans of the first novel can look forward to the chance to finally receive answers to their long-awaited questions.
We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib
Samra Habib stands her ground in her triumphant memoir that charts the author’s journey as a refugee to Canada from Pakistan and the discovery of her queer identity. As minority Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, Habib’s family fled the country when she was 10 to escape persecution from Muslim extremists. Growing up with the deeply ingrained knowledge of how one’s identity can put them in danger, Habib recounts navigating the dramatic change from her upper-middle class life in Pakistan to handling poverty in Canada, dealing with racism, and rejecting arranged marriage. This is exacerbated by her later realization of her queer identity, which poses a new host of problems. We Have Always Been Here is a moving tale of how families can grow, change, and adapt, along with the importance of openly embracing one’s identity.
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles
Megan Gail Coles’ debut novel is set on a tumultuous Valentine’s Day in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and introduces the reader to a host of characters tackling their own issues as a raging mid-winter blizzard traps them inside The Hazel restaurant on the city’s downtown strip. In a hilarious and heartbreaking way, Coles shines an unrelenting light on the province in the 21st century, handling sexism and racism. The novel particularly highlights the class conflict between the very wealthy and the incredibly poor, a long-present issue in a province with deeply ingrained rural and urban divides. Told through the voice of the restaurant’s hostess, Iris, and server, Damian, as well as an observant outsider, Olive, the novel has been described as “Newfoundland Gothic.” Thoroughly unrelenting, it follows in the vein of Joel Thomas Hynes’ We’ll All Be Burnt in our Beds Some Night, a dynamic, poetic novel from Canada’s isolated, easternmost province, where Newfoundland itself acts as the main character.
Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me by Anna Mehler Paperny
Queen’s Journal alum Anna Mehler Paperny’s book takes an investigative approach to mental illness and healthcare in Canada. Previously of the Globe and Mail, Mehler Paperny’s journalistic nature leads the way in her debut novel. From her own personal experiences with depression to her time spent hospitalized for evaluation and treatment, Mehler Paperny is an open book. Her narrative walks readers through her memories of how she felt in the lowest points of her depression all the way through to her decision to look into the mental health systems in our country to find how they were operating and where they were failing Canadians. Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me is an engrossing, educational read that will leave you more informed and empathetic than you were before picking up.
Different Beasts by Joel McConvey
By another Queen’s Journal alum, Joel McConvey’s book Different Beasts is a collection of short stories. The 12 stories in this book tackle what separates humans from beasts, and what drives us all. McConvey questions the systems within our society, and through the power of storytelling, he reveals them to all of us in a new light.
books, Canadian author, Canadian book, novel, reading week
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