Chasing Painted Horses – Drew Hayden Taylor

This short book by an Indigenous author is amazing for many reasons. First there is a mystical element for sure. But mostly the story is notable for describing an emotional state: the moment when 10- and 12-year-old children realize that life can be cruel and unfair; their abrupt loss of innocence is coupled with the realization that their parents and people in authority are powerless to circumvent an injustice. This story will produce tears and at times a heartbreaking sadness so be warned but endure and read this remarkable book.

Dominicana – Angie Cruz

It is the 1960s: Ana is 15 years old and newly married when she moves to New York City with her much older controlling husband. The NY context is the Washington Heights neighbourhood which is colourful and multi-cultural. Ana speaks no English and has no documents so she has a tough life. The 1960s setting in NY is one of the strengths of this story. Thanks Amy, for this recommendation.

We Have Always Been Here – Samra Habib

A Canada Reads (now postponed) contender: This is a very well-written and powerful memoir about identity and belonging, but more specifically about the cost of hiding your identity, initially as a member of a minority and persecuted Ahmadi Muslim sect in Pakistan. Then as a new immigrant in Canada, she is subject to racism and bullying. Finally, there is also the poignant issue of her being a queer Muslim, yet another secret identity. Highly recommended.

Had It Coming – Robyn Doolittle

This book is a logical sequel to Ms. Doolittle’s book Unfounded about the complexities and difficulties concerning the prosecution of sexual assault cases. The subtitle of this new book is “What’s fair in the age of #MeToo?”. Is #MeToo a moment or a substantial movement? The narrative contains a thoughtful discussion of difficult topics: rape culture that enables sexual violence, rape myths and stereotypes, the paramount issue of consent, due process, power and privilege and even redemption. This is a thought-provoking book – highly recommended.

Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

An early Atwood treasure from the 1970s with beautiful descriptive writing – this description off a restaurant meal is on page 1: “two restaurants which served identical grey hamburger steaks plastered with mud gravy and canned peas, watery and pallid as fish eyes, and french fries heavy with lard”. Is your mouth watering? The narrator is an un-named young woman who travels to a remote lake in Northern Quebec with three friends, to seek her missing father. There is an eerily effective transition to sinister happenings, but the true gem of the writing is the unfiltered dialog in the narrator’s head: this story is both spooky and brilliant, a must read.

The Dreamers – Karen Thompson Walker

Given the current concern over a potential coronavirus pandemic, this remarkable book is prescient by capturing the mood perfectly of a contagion, specifically the chaos and confusion. In this story, individuals fall asleep and can’t be aroused; sleep is associated with a profound dream state and is fatal in many cases. This story is not about the medical/scientific search for the cause and cure; the focus is on residents caught in an eventual quarantine. Ms. Walker previously has captured the devastating consequences of an unexpected and unexplained catastrophe in her earlier (2012) book The Age of Miracles.  A topical and riveting read.

That’s My Baby – Frances Itani

Ms. Itani has written two superb books about an Ontario community coping with the aftermath of WWI, Deafening (2003) and Tell (2011). This story is about Hanova who learns in 1958 on her 18th birthday that she was adopted as a child. Itani’s exquisite writing is subtle and expressive: the beauty of ordinariness (much like Carole Shields and Alice Munro). Her description of a trip to a dance hall is perfect. Hanora’s life during WWII and her subsequent considerable success as a writer is a major focus of the book, along with her quest for information about her birth parents. Itani’s impeccable writing covers diverse topics like art and music; she is a national literary treasure.