The Canada Reads 2022 longlist was announced on January 14th. The Miramichi Reader reviewed four, and TMR contributor Alison Manley posted reviews of three more on her Instagram page (@alisonburnis). Let’s start with Alison’s:
Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
Following five Indigenous Canadians, Five Little Indians traces them from their time in the same residential school and what happened to them once they got out. Lucy pursues a better life, trying to get some real education, build a chosen family, and becomes a mother. Kenny, who Lucy’s always loved, ran away from the residential school as a child and lives a nomadic life as an alcoholic adult. Maisie tries to find peace but puts herself in dangerous situations to feel something, anything. Clara, driven by her rage, tries to find meaningful work to uplift her people. And Howie beats one of his abusers to death, landing him in prison until he’s released and has to re-enter the world. Raw and hopeful, this is a beautiful novel. Good won the Governor General’s Literary Award for this book this week, days after the 215 children were found in Kamloops. There’s a lot going on in that series of events. Reading this felt right this week, and I suggest you read it too.
Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez
One of the things about reading CanLit is that a lot of books are set in Ontario, and specifically in and around Toronto. I don’t have an issue with that, though it reinforces Toronto = Canada. More on that later. I’ve been to Scarborough twice, which makes me not even close to an expert since I pretty much crashed [at a friend’s] place and didn’t spend any time there. So I don’t really have any familiarity or notions of what Scarborough is like – but this was a beautiful if tragic work. The novel revolves around the parents and children who attend a Literacy Centre at the elementary school and their stories. Interspersed are the communications between the centre coordinator and her pretty terrible boss. The characters are diverse, with poverty and immigration being their common threads to the centre. This is an excellent novel, highly recommend it.
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
Amir is the only survivor of a boat washed up on the beach on an unnamed tourist island in Europe. Originally from Syria, Amir is 9, and through alternating chapters of Before, it is revealed that his family fled to Egypt, where Amir followed his stepfather onto the boat in the middle of the night, not knowing what would happen to him. He runs from the authorities and meets Vänna, a local girl. Vänna endeavours to help Amir, and somehow get him home – but they end up trying to hide from the military, to keep Amir from being found.
This was riveting. I inhaled it, and the ending absolutely broke me. El Akkad knocked it out of the park with this story about refugees, migration, and hope.
The Spoon Stealer by Lesley Crewe
In The Spoon Stealer, Lesley Crewe proves that her strength as an author lies in her ability to show a relatable side to her characters. You find yourself silently “cheering from the sidelines” each individual character even if you find yourself not liking them very much. The cast of characters here is a beautiful mix of humanness that comes together to make a satisfying ending to the story. Read more…
Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough
Dominoes at the Crossroads is a significant book. Mr. Kellough examines race, but as he says in Petit Marronage (my favourite section/story in the book): “Race is not something I’ve superimposed on the story. It is embedded in the experience, and I want a reader to understand that, but most readers will fixate on it. They will read it as though it rested on the surface of the narrative even though it might reside deeper in the mix.” Read more…
All the Quiet Places by Brian Thomas Isaac
All the Quiet Places may (or may not be) a good snapshot of life on the reserve back in the day. I assume details are taken from the author’s own experience growing up in those years. There are gaps in the story and the dramatic climax was more or less foreseen, but the story was written in such a way that it certainly held my interest. As for any commentary on Indigenous matters, it falls short, but I get the feeling that this wasn’t the author’s purpose in writing Eddie’s story. In short, a fine debut novel. Read more…
We Two Alone by Jack Wang
Jack Wang’s first collection of short fiction, We Two Alone, is a superior example of the form, beautifully crafted, emotionally resonant, and dramatically satisfying. Wang’s characters are primarily Chinese nationals and the sons and daughters of Chinese immigrants, people who are struggling to acclimatize to shifting geopolitical environments and/or deal with crises that threaten their way of life and sometimes their very survival. Read more…