The Road From Coorain – Jill Ker Conway

This is a clear-eyed memoir of growing up in Australia (1935-75) with two exquisite points-of-view. The first is her evocative description of the physical geography of an 18,000-acre sheep station, 500 miles west of Sydney. The bush ethos, the virtue of loneliness and hardship, is a marked feature of her early life, along with the profound isolation (no other children as playmates).The second point-of-view comes after the death of her father and her relocation with her mother to Sydney, where she is introduced to rigid class structures and the minimal role of women in education. This is a masterpiece of place and memory.

We Ride Upon Sticks – Quan Barry

It is 1989, and a high school field hockey team (10 females, 1 male) in Danvers Massachusetts is driven to win the state championship. Can witchcraft help in this quest, particularly since Danvers is near to Salem, the site of the witch trials and burnings in 1692? This is a brilliant depiction of friendship in the context of high school and team sports. Teenage culture in 1989 is presented perfectly; music, hormones – sex drugs and rock-n-roll. Great fun.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

It is an extraordinarily hot summer in England in 1976, and someone has gone missing from a suburban avenue. Two 10-year-old girls, Grace and Tilly,  begin a dual search for the missing person and for God (based on a misunderstanding of a Vicar’s sermon). Secrets emerge about a tragic event 10 years previous – is this linked to the disappearance? This is an evocative coming-of-age story that is also about a community in need of absolution. Cannon’s writing is wonderfully descriptive: “carpet the colour of cough syrup”. Overall, a moving and perceptive story – highly recommended. Thanks Joyce, for telling me about this book.

The City We Became – NK Jemisin

A very imaginative example of speculative fiction about the soul of cities, specifically New York which is protected by five avatars in the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The personalities of the avatars reflect the borough characteristics. But there is conflict, a city takeover by malevolent forces! Highly entertaining with extraordinary visual scenes. Thanks Amy for this recommendation.

Five Little Indians – Michelle Good

A graphic and powerful story of five indigernous children who have experienced Residential Schools, especially the aftermath on their post-school lives. Some tragic endings, some examples of resilience. This book should be assigned reading for those who dismiss the Residential School tragedy and for those who acknowledge hardship but then suggest that “survivors” should just get over it.

The Sword in the Stone – T. H. White

This is the first book of White’s magnificent 4-book collection entitled the Once And Future King, an epic retelling of King Arthur legends. In this first book, the young Arthur (nicknamed Wart) is tutored by Merlyn so much magic is involved. Lessons frequently involve Wart’s transformation into different animals: fish, birds, a badger, etc. There are also some gut-busting hilarious illustrations of the difficulties of jousting. Imaginative writing is coupled with impressive knowledge of natural history (how to fly, how to swim) makes this an enchanting read.

 

Amy adds: still laughing at the jousting descriptions!

The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Academy was a notorious reform school in Florida; young African-American boys could be assigned for months-years for trivial reasons. And they were subjected to horrible abuse: beatings, sexual assault, etc. The story focusses on two boys in the early 60s, Elwood and Turner, who have remarkably different viewpoints. Elwood has ideals based on the words of Martin Luther King; Turner is a cynical schemer. Which boy is more likely to survive the Nickel nightmare? The Jim Crow era in the South in the 1960s has evils that are perpetuated in the current #BLM times.  Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous book The Underground Railroad: both are highly recommended.

Greenwood – Michael Christie

A sweeping saga of four generations of the Greenwood family, told more or less backwards from 2038 to 1908. What is most interesting in the story-telling is that the Greenwood family is a construct. Two orphans are raised as “brothers’ but have no biological ties; a “daughter” is rescued and adopted into the family under mysterious conditions. Even the name Greenwood is an artificial construct, a name arbitrarily applied to the two (unrelated) orphans. The story has a strong ecological focus, from the dirty-thirties to a global ecological disaster called the withering in 2028. Very strong character, a vivid description of place – highly recommended.

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.