So many winning Canadian books are celebrated every season that all of them don't fit into a single blog post. So on the occasion of summer, when the reading days still stretch oh-so-long, here are more of them, the Canadian books that have been winning judge and jurors' hearts. (See "Winning Books Part One," from May.)
Brown, by Kamal Al-Solaylee
Winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
About the book: With the urgency and passion of Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me), the seductive storytelling of J.D. Vance (Hillbilly Elegy) and the historical rigour of Carol Anderson (White Rage), Kamal Al-Solaylee explores the in-between space that brown people occupy in today’s world: on the cusp of whiteness and the edge of blackness. Brown proposes a cohesive racial identity and politics for the millions of people from the Global South and provides a timely context for the frictions and anxieties around immigration and multiculturalism that have led to the rise of populist movements in Europe and the election of Donald Trump.
At once personal and global, Brown is packed with storytelling and on-the-street reporting conducted over two years in ten countries on four continents that reveals a multitude of lives and stories from destinations as far apart as the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, the United States, Britain, Trinidad, France, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Qatar and Canada. It features striking research about the emergence of brown as the colour of cheap labor and the pursuit of a lighter skin tone as a global status symbol. As he studies the significance of brown skin for people from North Africa and the Middle East, Mexico and Central America, and South and East Asia, Al-Solaylee also reflects on his own identity and experiences as a brown-skinned person (in his case from Yemen) who grew up with images of whiteness as the only indicators of beauty and success.
This is a daring and politically resonant work that challenges our assumptions about race, immigration and globalism and recounts the heartbreaking stories of the people caught in the middle.
Bad Things Happen, by Kris Bertin
Winner of the Danuta Gleed Award
About the book: The characters in Bad Things Happen—professors, janitors, webcam models, small-time criminals—are between things. Between jobs and marriages, states of sobriety, joy and anguish; between who they are and who they want to be. Kris Bertin's unforgettable debut introduces us to people at the tenuous moment before everything in their lives change, for better or worse.
Paper Teeth, by Lauralynn Chow
Winner of the Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize (Alberta Literary Awards)
About the book: Paper Teeth, through interconnected short stories, follows the lives of the Lees, a Canadian-Chinese family and their friends who reside in Edmonton, Alberta. While playing with time, from the 1960s and 70s up to the present, Paper Teeth creates a world of walking dolls, family car trips, fashion and frosty makeup, home renovations inspired by pop culture, and moving up to big, new houses. Paper Teeth's stories are fun, funny, and heart-warming journeys about the pursuit of identity and the crafting of home.
With the domestic tomfoolery of David Sedaris' Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and the humourous interplay of Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water and Hiromi Goto's Chorus of Mushrooms, through deft observation and prismatic-voiced humour, including ironic asides, Lauralyn Chow reveals how family nourishes hope.
Black Apple, by Joan Crate
Winner of the The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize (Alberta Literary Awards)
About the book: Torn from her home and delivered to St. Mark’s Residential School for Girls by government decree, young Rose Marie finds herself in an alien universe where nothing of her previous life is tolerated, not even her Blackfoot name. For she has entered into the world of the Sisters of Brotherly Love, an order of nuns dedicated to saving the Indigenous children from damnation. Life under the sharp eye of Mother Grace, the Mother General, becomes an endless series of torments, from daily recitations and obligations to chronic sickness and inedible food. And then there are the beatings. All the feisty Rose Marie wants to do is escape from St. Mark’s. How her imagination soars as she dreams about her lost family on the Reserve, finding in her visions a healing spirit that touches her heart. But all too soon she starts to see other shapes in her dreams as well, shapes that warn her of unspoken dangers and mysteries that threaten to engulf her. And she has seen the rows of plain wooden crosses behind the school, reminding her that many students have never left here alive.
Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.
With a poet’s eye, Joan Crate creates brilliantly the many shadings of this heartbreaking novel, rendering perfectly the inner voices of Rose Marie and Mother Grace, and exploring the larger themes of belief and belonging, of faith and forgiveness.
Barrelling Forward, by Eva Crocker
Winner of the Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award
About the book: Eva Crocker sees life in sharper focus than the rest of us. The objects, rituals, and scenes of everyday life take on an almost mythic quality in these stories, even while remaining intimately recognizable to us all. Crocker peers at the underbelly of poverty and work, ambition and apathy, loneliness and love, to find the sliver of beauty in each spot. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems: the boundaries between friendship and sex dissolve; power relationships are turned on their heads, if only long enough to examine them from all angles; transgressions and escapes become new kinds of traps. In “Auditioning,” a young twin makes a desperate attempt to reclaim her individuality. In “Serving,” a father and a son give parallel accounts of what it looks like when you let life eat you from the inside out. In “Star of the Sea,” a man watches his past get literally torn down before his eyes. And in the Cuffer Prize-winning “Dead Skin,” an after-school walk through the barrens leaves two boys forever changed.
In stories that ache with longing even as they pulse with new possibilities, Crocker gives us an unforgettable array of ordinary people, sometimes soaring, sometimes sinking, but always, ultimately, barrelling forward towards what’s next. Vivid, sexy, funny, and raw, this is a marvel of a debut from one of Canada’s most thrilling new writers.
Girl Mans Up, by M.E. Girard
Winner of the Lamba Literary Award for LGBT Children/ Young Adult
About the book: All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy-that she should quit trying to be something she’s not. If she dresses like a girl, and does what her folks want, it will show respect. If she takes orders and does what her friend Colby wants, it will show her loyalty. But respect and loyalty, Pen discovers, are empty words. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth-that in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up.
Cub’s Journey Home, by Georgia Graham
Winner of the R. Ross Annett Award for Children’s Literature (Alberta Literary Awards)
About the book: Little Cub does not know about the world outside, or winter, or the passing seasons. The only home he knows is with his mother in their warm, comfortable den. Before long needles of sunlight start stabbing through the den's entrance and Mother Bear knows it is time to go out into the world in search of food. In this bright new world of possibilities Little Cub learns to climb trees and run and play. He helps his mother eat up all the juicy insects and drink the sweet honey.
But there are dangers in this world as well—the air becomes heavy and dark and Mother Bear starts to smell the approaching smoke of a forest fire. It hurts to breathe and their eyes sting. In the chaos of the fire Little Cub discovers he has lost his mother. There are other bears everywhere but they are too dangerous to be around for a young bear like Little Cub. In the aftermath of the fire both Little Cub and Mother Bear will search to find their true safe place in this world—together.
The Promise of Canada, by Charlotte Gray
Winner of the Canadian Authors Association History Award
About the book: On the eve of Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations comes a richly rewarding new book from acclaimed historian Charlotte Gray about what it means to be Canadian. Readers already know Gray as an award-winning biographer, a writer who has brilliantly captured significant individuals and dramatic moments in our history. Now, in The Promise of Canada, she weaves together masterful portraits of nine influential Canadians, creating a unique history of the country over the past 150 years.
What do these people—from George-Étienne Cartier and Emily Carr to Tommy Douglas, Margaret Atwood, and Elijah Harper—have in common? Each, according to Charlotte Gray, has left an indelible mark on our country. Deliberately avoiding a “top down” approach to our history, Gray has chosen people whose ideas have caught her imagination, ideas that over time have become part of our collective conversation. She also highlights many other Canadians, past and present, who have added to the ongoing debate over how we see ourselves, arguing that Canada has constantly reimagined itself in every generation since 1867.
Beautifully illustrated with evocative black and white images and colourful artistic visions of our country, The Promise of Canada is a fresh take on our history that offers fascinating insights into how we have matured and yet how—150 years after Confederation and beyond—we are still a people in progress. Charlotte Gray makes history come alive as she opens doors into our past, our present and our future, inspiring and challenging readers to envision the Canada they want to live in.
The Sweetest One, by Melanie Mah
Winner of the Trillium Book Award
About the book: Cosmopolitan and curious seventeen-year-old Chrysler Wong suffers from a debilitating fear brought on by belief in a family curse. Three of her siblings have died after turning eighteen and venturing beyond the borders of their tiny rural Alberta town, and the fourth, her favourite, has recently left and is incommunicado. Is she destined to share their fate—or worse, doomed to live a circumscribed life?
Winner of the Donner Prize
About the book: The pursuit of political power is strategic as never before. Ministers, MPs, and candidates parrot the same catchphrases. The public service has become politicized. And decision making is increasingly centralized in the Prime Minister’s Office. What is happening to our democracy? To get to the bottom of this, Alex Marland reviewed internal political party files, media reports, and documents obtained through access to information requests, and interviewed Ottawa insiders. He discovered that in the face of rapid changes in communication technology, the infusion of corporate marketing strategies has instilled a culture of centralized political control. At the core of the strategy is brand control; at stake is democracy as we know it.
The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Health Care, by Zena Sharman
Winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Anthology
About the book: To remedy means to heal, to cure, to set right, to make reparations.
The Remedy invites writers and readers to imagine what we need to create healthy, resilient, and thriving LGBTQ communities. This anthology is a diverse collection of real-life stories from queer and trans people on their own health-care experiences and challenges, from gay men living with HIV who remember the systemic resistance to their health-care needs, to a lesbian couple dealing with the experience of cancer, to young trans people who struggle to find health-care providers who treat them with dignity and respect. The book also includes essays by health-care providers, activists, and leaders, with something to say about the challenges, politics, and opportunities surrounding LGBTQ health issues.
Both exceptionally moving and an incendiary call-to-arms, The Remedyis a must-read for anyone—gay, straight, trans, and otherwise—passionately concerned about the right to proper health care for all.
Notley Nation: How Alberta's Political Upheaval Swept the Country, by Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid
Winner of the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction (Alberta Literary Awards)
About the book: Alberta has long been seen as politically paralyzed. But it has always been a cauldron of discontent, producing the Reform Party, the Wildrose movement, the modern Conservative Party of Canada, and Stephen Harper. Notley Nation tells how this pent-up energy exploded in an unexpected direction with Rachel Notley’s NDP victory.
Stereotypes of redneck Alberta have long been at odds with the province’s growing progressive streak. The political upheaval that swept conservatism out of office in 2015 had shown its first tremors there five years earlier. Progressive mayors were elected in Calgary and Edmonton, and soon it became clear that the province’s PC government was falling out of touch with modern Alberta.
Political journalists Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid explore how the Alberta NDP ended a forty-three-year Conservative dynasty that proved incapable of adapting to forces beyond its control or understanding. That wave would soon spread across the country, sweeping Justin Trudeau into office.
The Description of the World, by Johanna Skibsrud
Winner of the Canadian Authors Association Poetry Award
About the book: The Description of the World was the original title for Marco Polo's writings about his travels, but in describing the world, Polo also helped to create it. In this collection, Skibsrud asks: is our world really what it appears to be? How do we shape it through language? And if language can create our world, can it also transform or destroy it?
A sense of vastness permeates the poems. Vistas and open fields are created rather than described. In these spaces, Skibsrud confronts us with the question of our own annihilation: atomic warfare, nuclear fallout and apocalyptic imagery inspired by French artist Jean Tinguely's Study for an End of the World.
In turn, Skibsrud also addresses the subject of birth and renewal. In a final sequence of poems inspired by the birth of her daughter, we arrive at an understanding of ourselves in relation not only to the world we are born to, but to our role in a world we are still, and always, in the process of creating.
Yes or Nope, by Meaghan Strimas
Winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry
About the book: Funny and frank, playful and unpredictable, frequently outrageous and undeniably smart—Meaghan Strimas's poems explore the lives of girls, women, and a few bad men who maybe wish they were a little better. Strimas tackles the darkest and most disturbing subjects with a sense of humour that never fails to find evidence of a grand, cosmic joke. Bad relationships, unhealthy friendships, and creepy neighbours abound in this lively collection, which is as compulsively readable as it is emotionally unsettling. Oh, and there's a poem about hog-farming, too.
Rising Abruptly, by Gisèle Villeneuve
Winner of the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction (Alberta Literary Awards)
About the book: Gisèle Villeneuve’s short stories test the elastic pull between passion and terror. For inspiration, Villeneuve turned to her personal history to examine what lures urban dwellers outdoors, to test themselves against peaks and valleys. Using the overarching metaphor of mountain climbing, she plays with form, language, and narrative to reveal our fears, our loves, our passions. Rising Abruptly is a perfect companion for anyone who likes to travel, loves a climber, or simply glories in the allure of the mountains.
The Naturalist, by Alissa York
Winner of the Canadian Authors Association Fiction Award
About the book: 1867, Philadelphia. Amateur naturalist Walter Ash is on the brink of setting off to travel up his beloved Amazon when fate intervenes, obliging his only son to take his place. More at ease among his books than in the field, Paul Ash takes a reluctant leave of absence from Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology to accompany his grieving stepmother and her young companion to the fabled River Sea. Paul holds no memory of the place, though he was born there; he was still an infant when his father carried him out of the jungle and away from the mixed-blood family he might have known. As it transpires, however, neither the region nor its people have forgotten Paul. The Amazon lays claim to him in no uncertain terms, but it also works a peculiar magic on both his father's lovely widow and her friend—a quiet little Quaker named Rachel Weaver who proves strangely at home in the wild.
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