Stay Where I Can See You: The List

Book Cover Stay Where I Can See You

I had this idea for a book about a mother and daughter at that moment where they split apart: the emotional separation that must precede the physical one when a child leaves home. I knew the characters right away—17-year-old Maddie, burning to grow up, and her mom, Gwen, devoted yet unknowable—but I needed a world, and a drama, in which to place them. I heard about someone I knew winning a small amount in a lottery, and it shocked me somehow: Why them? What now? I decided that a win like that would be a good place to put my fictional family: a gain to contrast the loss. Stay Where I Can See You became a book about secrets, and the ebb and flow of fortune, and how those fortunes collide and coexist in a city.

I don’t look at books that are too similar to mine when I’m writing but this is a list of kindred stories that I’ve read over the years that circle similar themes, and probably worked their way into my brain and slid onto the page in ways I’ll never fully understand.

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What We All Long For, by Dionne Brand

Brand deploys her poet’s pen to tell this onion-layered story of a group of second-generation 20-somethings in Toronto making their way through the unforgiving city. A child who died on a boat escaping Vietnam years ago still haunts and hovers. Like the city, this is a novel that’s gloriously crowded with bodies, emotions, sounds. So many subways and buses!

About the book: What We All Long For follows the overlapping stories of a close circle of second-generation twenty-somethings living in downtown Toronto. There’s Tuyen, a lesbian avant-garde artist and the daughter of Vietnamese parents who’ve never recovered from losing one of their children in the crush to board a boat out of Vietnam in the 1970s. Tuyen defines herself in opposition to just about everything her family believes in and strives for. She’s in love with her best friend Carla, a biracial bicycle courier, who’s still reeling from the loss of her mother to suicide eighteen years earlier and who must now deal with her brother Jamal’s latest acts of delinquency. Oku is a jazz-loving poet who, unbeknownst to his Jamaican-born parents, has dropped out of university. He is in constant conflict with his narrow-minded and verbally abusive father and tormented by his unrequited love for Jackie, a gorgeous black woman who runs a hip clothing shop on Queen Street West and dates only white men. Like each of her friends, Jackie feels alienated from her parents, former hipsters from Nova Scotia who never made it out of subsidized housing after their lives became entangled with desire and disappointment.

The four characters try to make a life for themselves in the city, supporting one another through their family struggles.

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Unless, by Carol Shields

One of the first images I had in my head for Stay Where I Can See You was a young woman in front of the Toronto Reference Library sitting with her dog, asking for money—sadly quotidian, unremarkable. In Carol Shields’ Unless, a family is thrown into turmoil when their adolescent daughter decides to sit on a street in Toronto. Is this an act of protest, poetry, self-erasure? The mother, a translator, tries to write her way back to safety.

About the book: Reta Winters has many reasons to be happy: Her three almost grown daughters. Her twenty-year relationship with their father. Her work translating the larger-than-life French intellectual and feminist Danielle Westerman. Her modest success with a novel of her own, and the clamour of her American publisher for a sequel. Then in the spring of her forty-fourth year, all the quiet satisfactions of her well-lived life disappear in a moment: her eldest daughter Norah suddenly runs from the family and ends up mute and begging on a Toronto street corner, with a hand-lettered sign reading GOODNESS around her neck.

GOODNESS. With the inconceivable loss of her daughter like a lump in her throat, Reta tackles the mystery of this message. What in this world has broken Norah, and what could bring her back to the provisional safety of home? Reta’s wit is the weapon she most often brandishes as she kicks against the pricks that have brought her daughter down: Carol Shields brings us Reta’s voice in all its poignancy, outrage and droll humour.

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Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, by Sam Sutherland

A wild nonfiction account of punk’s unleashing on 1970s Canada, a culture crashing force that forever altered so many people and cities. Sutherland weaves story from anecdotes about bands like The Subhumans, Teenage Head, DOA, each one coated in grime and passion—and so much joy and affection for the music. A reminder that music has always been the escape hatch for furious, sensitive young people.

About the book: While many volumes devoted to the punk and hardcore scenes in America grace bookstore shelves, Canada's contributions to the genre remain largely unacknowledged. For the first time, the birth of Canadian punk—a transformative cultural force that spread across the country at the end of the 1970s—captured between the pages of this important resource. Delving deeper than standard band biographies, this book articulates how the advent of punk reshaped the culture of cities across Canada, speeding along the creation of alternative means of cultural Production, consumption, and distribution. Describing the origins of bands such as D.O.A., the Subhumans, the Viletones, and Teenage Head alongside lesser-known regional acts from all over Canada, it is the first published account of the first wave of punk in places like Regina, Ottawa, Halifax, and Victoria. Proudly staking Canada's claim as the starting point for many internationally famous bands, this book unearths a forgotten musical and cultural history of drunks and miscreants, future country stars, and political strategists.

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This One Summer, by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

A graphic novel about one of those transformative summers of early adolescence, painted a beautiful late sunset blue colour. The cottage country where Rose has been going since she was a kid suddenly seems different, infused with the adult world sadness of her parents, and teen dramas she never noticed before. A coming-of-age story where the young narrator is aware, already nostalgic for her recent past.

About the book: Rose and Windy are summer friends whose families have visited Awago Beach for as long as they can remember. But this year is different, and they soon find themselves tangled in teen love and family crisis. From the creators of Skim comes an investigation into the mysterious world of adults.

Sure, Rose’s dad is still making cheesy and embarrassing jokes, but her mother is acting like she doesn’t even want to be there. Plus, being at the cottage isn’t just about going to the beach anymore. Now Rose and Windy are spending a lot of their time renting scary movies and spying on the teenagers who work at the corner store, as well as learning stuff about sex no one mentioned in health class.

Pretty soon everything is messed up. Rose’s father leaves the cottage and returns to the city, and her mother becomes more and more withdrawn. While her family is falling to pieces, Rose focuses her attention on Dunc, a teenager working at the local corner store. When Jenny, Dunc’s girlfriend, claims to be pregnant, the girls realize that the teenagers are keeping just as many secrets as the adults in their lives.

No one seems to want to talk about the things that matter. When the tension between Dunc and Jenny boils over, Jenny makes a desperate and destructive move and Rose's mother is galvanized into action. In the aftermath, nothing is completely resolved, but secrets have been aired, which means that things are at least a bit better for everyone. For Rose and Windy, the end of summer brings the realization that, while Awago Beach might always be the same, they have both been changed forever.

From Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, creators of the multi-award-winning graphic novel Skim, comes a stunning and authentic story of friendship, illustrated with subtly heart-breaking moments and pure summer joy.

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Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, by Evelyn Lau

I haven’t revisited this book from 1989 in years, but I don’t know if it’s ever stopped reverberating in my imagination. Lau’s gorgeously written diary of her years surviving the streets is brutal and unapologetic, a blunt, bone-deep depiction of the teen sex trade. I remember admiring her refusal to impose a tidy redemptive arc on her untamable story.

About the book: Even as a six-year-old child, Evelyn Lau already knew what she would be in life—a writer. She would spend countless hours in her room writing short stories and poems trying to avoid the suffocating reality surrounding her. At the age of fourteen, forbidden by her strict parents to “waste” any more of her time writing, Evelyn did the only thing she felt she could do—she ran away.

For two years, Lau lived on the streets of Vancouver. For a while she embraced her new life, seduced by the sense of freedom and independence from the pressures of school and family. But like so many others before her, Lau soon fell into a dangerous spiral of drug addiction and prostitution. During her two harrowing years on the street, Lau’s writing ambition never left her; almost obsessively, she kept a written record of her days on the street; this record is Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid.

A bestselling memoir, Runaway is a story of survival: physical, emotional and psychological. It is at times tragic, sometimes infuriating, but always honest and inspired; Runaway makes no apologies and offers no solutions. It is a vivid and frightening portrait of a young girl’s life on the street.

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The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud

What happens when a woman suppresses her inner life, declaring (ironically), “I will not spill into the lives of others, greedily sucking and wanting and needing.” Nora, a 37-year-old school teacher, shyly artistic, slowly reveals those tamped down desires when she becomes entwined with the Shahids, an intoxicating family that seems to see her as she can’t see herself. Messud’s language is so rich, so tightly braided, and in  service of one of my favourite themes: the dangers of female containment.

About the book: Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was on the verge of disappearing into the background until Reza Shahid walked into her classroom. Nora is quickly drawn into the complex world of the Shahid family. Soon she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together, and happiness shatters her boundaries—until ambition leads to betrayal.

Written with intimacy and piercing emotion, this urgently dispatched story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill—and the devastating cost—of giving in to one's passions. The Woman Upstairs is a masterly story of America today, of being a woman and of the exhilarations of love.

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Worry, by Jessica Westhead

I was given an advance copy of this book when Stay Where I Can See You was being copy edited, and I felt like we probably could have swapped titles. Book cousins, definitely. Ruth is aquiver with anxiety, intensely circling her 4-year-old daughter during a visit to a cottage with an old friend, Stef, where every rustle of the trees seems perilous. A backdoor thriller that’s really about the jagged contours of female friendship, and the long-ago losses that seep into present day parenting. Delightfully creepy.

About the book: Ruth is the fiercely protective mother of almost-four-year-old Fern. Together they visit a remote family cottage belonging to Stef, the woman who has been Ruth’s best friend—and Ruth's husband’s best friend—for years. Stef is everything Ruth is not—confident, loud, carefree—and someone Ruth cannot seem to escape. While Fern runs wild with Stef’s older twins and dockside drinks flow freely among the adults, they’re joined by Stef’s neighbour Marvin, a man whose frantic pursuit of fun is only matched by his side comments about his absent wife. As day moves into night and darkness settles over the woods, the edges between these friends and a stranger sharpen until a lingering suspicion becomes an undeniable threat.

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Adultery, by Richard B. Wright

I love it when a protagonist blows up his perfect life. Wright’s novel about a staid book editor whose fling with a coworker goes horribly awry is an autopsy of a WASPy Toronto marriage. Though rooted in a precisely drawn world of urban intellectuals, it’s a universal truth that each partner in a marriage will, inevitably and eventually, seek the other’s forgiveness and grace.

About the book: Richard Wright’s bestselling follow-up to Clara Callan is a quietly brilliant story of infidelity and forgiveness.Daniel Fielding has it all: a charming wife and daughter, the respect of his co-workers, a nice house in a desirable neighbourhood. What, then, drives him to succumb to the charms of a pretty,young colleague at an overseas book fair? When a passionate indiscretion explodes into violence, Fielding must confront the ever-widening aftershocks of his actions, an uncertain future and his own inner demons.

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About Stay Where I Can See You:

Does good fortune always change things for the better?

The Kaplan family has just won 10 million dollars in the lottery. But haven’t they always been lucky? Gwen thought so. She’s carefully curated a perfect suburban existence with a loving husband and two children. For over a decade, she’s been a stay-at-home mom, devoted to giving her kids the quiet, protected adolescence she didn’t have. But the surprise windfall suddenly upends the family, allowing them all to dream a little bigger and catapulting them back to the city that Gwen fled years ago.

As the Kaplans navigate the notoriety that the lottery brings and try to adjust to their new lives in the upper class—Seth launches a dubious start-up, Maddie falls headfirst in love at her elite prep school—a tightly held secret is unlocked. Along with the truth come long-buried memories from Gwen’s troubled youth, forcing her to confront her painful past and threatening to unravel the incredibly tight bond between her and Maddie. Her meticulously constructed identity as the good wife and mother begins to crack. And when their changed circumstances place her family under threat, Gwen must wake up from her domestic slumber.

For readers of Meg Wolitzer, Liane Moriarty and Zoe Whittall, Katrina Onstad’s new novel explores whether our most intimate relationships can survive our most unforgivable actions. Stay Where I Can See You is a penetrating story about the pendulum swing of fortune, the ferocity of mother–daughter devotion and the stories we tell—and withhold—because of love.

April 6, 2020
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