My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry – Fredrik Backman

Elsa is a precocious almost 8-year-old who is perceived as different and thus bullied at school. Thankfully, she has a very close relationship with her 77-year-old grandmother who tells her mythical stories about the Land-of-Almost-Awake. When Elsa’s grandmother dies, Elsa receives a series of apology letters that she is directed to deliver, and so Elsa learns about her grandmother’s incredible back story. This is a brilliant book about life and death, with inspired comic moments and deeply sentimental sad situations, so both laughs and tears abound.

The Book of Form and Emptiness – Ruth Ozeki

This brilliant new book by the author of A Tale For The Time Being is wildly imaginative, and thus hard to describe. Benny is a teenager who hears voices; his mother Annabelle is a hoarder. Both are grieving the death of their father/husband. Most key events take place in a public library, and books have a consciousness that allow them to narrate the story. Events are chaotic and often perplexing. What is reality, especially with grief and PTSD? What is the price of imagination? Highly recommended.

Apeirogon – Colum McCann

Simply put – this is a remarkable book, one that must be read slowly and savoured. First, a definition: an apeirogon is a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. Thus, a perfect title for a book addressing the complex many-faceted Israel-Palestine situation. Bassam is Palestinian; his daughter Abir was killed by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli border guard. Rami is Israeli; his daughter Smadar was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. They separately deal with perceptions of revenge and justice, and the many versions of truth. And unexpectedly, they become friends. Their stories unfold in a non-linear manner with incredible detail. Overall, a breathtaking narrative that merges fact with imagination, violence and grief.

Hamnet and Judith – Maggie O-Farrell

It is the late 16th century. Agnes marries a Latin tutor and they have three children, Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith. The death of one of the twins produces intense grief, so readers be warned that the final 100 pages of this historical novel are extraordinarily sad, culminating in the writing of Hamlet by the Latin tutor, aka William Shakespeare.

Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi

Gifty is a graduate student at Stanford, studying reward-seeking behaviour in mice. She is grieving the overdose death of her brother and the continuing depression of her mother. This is a cerebral story, meaning it takes place in Gifty’s mind as she grapples with tough issues: addiction and depression, grief and love, science and religion.

Amy notes: another book by Yaa Gyasi, who also wrote the excellent Homegoing.

A Town Called Solace – Mary Lawson

Clara, age 7, lives in Northern Ontario. It is 1972 and Clara has two responsibilities: to keep vigil for her runaway 16-year-old sister and to look after the cat in her neighbour’s house while Mrs. Orchard is in hospital. But then a strange man occupies Mrs. Orchard’s house! Three distinct storylines emerge, each with differing timelines, But this is Clara’s story: fear, love, resilience, a child’s imagination when truth is withheld. Lawson is a literary master; her previous book Crow Lake is equally compelling.

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.

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.

The First Time Lauren Paling Died – Alyson Rudd

An intriguing speculative fiction story set in 1970-80s England. When Lauren dies accidentally at age 13, she reappears in an alternate reality; new lives also begin for her parents. Lauren has glimpses of her former lives, that she has slightly different mothers, for example. By her third life, these glimpses of her previous two lives become increasingly disturbing. This is an imaginative look at loss and grief.