Scarborough – Catherine Hernandez

Scarborough is a low-income culturally diverse suburb of Toronto. This novel graphically describes a troubled community struggling against poverty, racism, and urban blight, mainly through the experiences of children. Often sad but also hopeful, this is a powerful story. Thanks Steph, for this recommendation. Scarborough is a Canada Reads 2022 contender.

When We Lost Our Heads – Heather O’Neill

Simply put, this is a wonderful book about compelling and complex women in Montreal at the end of the 19th century. Men in the story are mostly inconsequential, despite some appallingly boorish behaviour. Marie and Sadie are best friends as children, but theirs is a classic love-hate relationship (“Every decent friendship comes with a drop of hatred. But that hatred is like honey in the tea. It makes it addictive”). Marie is spoiled and entitled; Sadie is subversive and dangerous. Ms. O’Neill‘s writing is enchanting with exquisite similes describing disparate worlds: life in a brothel, exploitive factory work (the Squalid Mile). Female relationships are infinitely complex with righteous anger, pettiness and jealousy, and a self-absorbed woman who has no empathy toward other women. Powerful feminist themes abound: the invisibility of marriage, sexual awareness leading to female empowerment. And finally, anticipate a late plot twist and an extraordinary ending. This is O’Neill at her best, a Montreal noir story.

Forest Green – Kate Pullinger

A story of Art Lunn in different BC locations. His life is defined by a tragic incident at 8 years of age, which he blames himself for the rest of his life. Consequently, he is unable to make commitments to other people, and descends into alcoholism and eventual homelessness, an acute example of how early trauma can initiate a life-long feeling of worthlessness. Actually, the story is less depressing than the above description implies, so worth a read.

Fight Club – Miriam Toews

Another tour-de-fore novel by a wonderful storyteller. A remarkable feature of this book is its literary style which is completely different from Toews’ previous books. This is a story of three generations of women. The principal character is Swiv (age unspecified, as is the origin of her name) who has a pregnant and unstable mother and an eccentric grandmother. The wisdom of the grandmother, namely that you must fight to survive, drives the story. The place is Toronto with an extraordinary and hilarious road trip to Fresno for Swiv and Elvira, her grandmother. This is epic storytelling about unusual family relationships – highly recommended.

The Forgotten Daughter – Joanna Goodman

Ms. Goodman wrote the excellent The Home For Unwanted Girls about the Duplessis Orphans, created when Quebec re-classified orphans as being mentally deficient in order to transfer their care to mental hospitals. Her new book continues Elodie’s story to achieve justice and an official apology. The time is the early 90s with the backdrop of separation and the 1995 referendum, with two fascinating characters, James and Vero, on opposite sides of the separation debate. Anger is a powerful force in people’s actions. And the difficulty of acting on principles is a dominant theme. Highly recommended.

Seven Fallen Feathers – Tanya Talaga

Ms. Talaga has written an impeccably researched and powerful story about the deaths of seven Indigenous youths in Thunder Bay from 2000-2011. This is a modern version of the residential school tragedy. Indigenous youth are forced to leave their remote Anishinaabe northern communities due to lack of educational resources so they take High School in Thunder Bay. They lack a supportive social system and experience racism ranging from indifference to overt hostility with violence. This revealing book should be required reading for all Canadians.

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.

The Crash Palace – Andrew Wedderburn

Audrey is a young woman who loves to drive. Much of this story describes in detail an extended road trip with four aging ex-punk rockers, to gigs in mostly empty dive bars throughout BC and Alberta. Wedderburn’s writing is wonderfully descriptive: the physical geography, the smells and sounds of the bars. There are many recognizable locations in Calgary and Camore. And with a character called the Skinny Cowboy, what’s not to love! Thanks Sarah, for giving me this delightful book.