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10 Books Showing Resilience in the Face of Adversity

Book Cover One Sunny Afternoon

We've got three copies of One Sunny Afternoon up for giveaway until September October 1.

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If I’ve learned anything in this unpredictable and arguably atypical life of mine, it’s that we have little to no control over what happens to us—only how we choose to deal with it. As such, I’m forever devouring stories about perseverance in times of great challenge, whether those challenges be real or fictitious, deeply personal or global. These stories always remind me of my own determination (which is something I need reminding of from time to time) and how we can all grow and adapt in the face of adversity. Here are ten of my favourite Canadian books on inner strength.


Book Cover Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

This classic novel about an orphan who accidentally gets placed with a pair of adult siblings is a must-read for any child. Matthew and Marilla were expecting a boy from the orphanage to help them with work around the farm. What they get is a young, feisty girl who wins their hearts. Not only is this a story about finding your way after a bumpy start, but it’s an early example of how loving families come in all shapes and sizes.


Book Cover The STone Angl

The Stone Angel, by Margaret Lawrence

Margaret Laurence writes through the eyes of protagonist-but-kind-of-antagonist Hagar Shipley, a 90-year-old woman from Manawaka, Manitoba. Hagar is not the most likeable character, showing her judgmental, cold and, at times, combative sides. However, as we learn about her life of mistakes, mistreatment, and misfortune, we begin to ask ourselves if she would have survived without the hardened armour she now dons.


Book Cover North of Normal

North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both, by Cea Sunrise Person

Imagine growing up free from societal rules and expectations, but forever held captive by the trauma brought on by the people who raised you. For the first thirteen years of Cea Sunrise Person’s life, she was both entranced by the gifts of living in the wilderness with her grandparents and teenage mother, and also deeply scarred by the dysfunction and abuse she experienced. Person’s harrowing account reminds us that resilience and hope are needed to create a new and healthier normal for ourselves.


Book Cover Moon of the Crusted Snow

Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice

Post-apocalyptic stories are plentiful, but few highlight the resilience of Indigenous people. Set in a small Anishnaabe community, Rice’s novel focuses on the importance of interpersonal relationships and teamwork in the face of crisis—this particular crisis being the end of modern civilization. Chaos ensues when the greed of individuals gets in the way of the community’s needs as a whole, forcing some unlikely leaders to restore balance.


Book Cover Tomboy Survival Guide

Tomboy Survival Guide, by Ivan Coyote

In this memoir of short stories, Coyote shows the reader what it’s like to grow up in a world of labels that don’t fit. Society can be particularly disenfranchising for LGBTQIA+ youth, who all too often need a significant amount of resilience to make it to adulthood. Memoirs like this one serve as a beacon of hope to those who need it—and many do.


Book Cover Secret Path

Secret Path, by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

The late Gord Downie helped to raise awareness about the mistreatment and murder of Indigenous children in Canada’s residential schools. He worked closely with the Wenjack family, telling the story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a boy who escaped the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School and tried to walk the 400 miles home. This graphic novel by Jeff Lemire and its accompanying songs by Downie are both heartbreaking and heroic, reminding us of why Canadians must keep working towards reconciliation.


Book Cover Life of Pi

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Life of Pi is about a young boy from India named Piscine “Pi” Patel, who, after a shipwreck, is stranded on a small boat in the Pacific Ocean for over 200 days. Except he’s not alone—Pi has some animal guests with him, including a large Bengal Tiger. This story might leave you guessing whether it happened at all, but what is certainly true is how much mental fortitude is needed to survive challenging situations. 


Book Cover Room

Room, by Emma Donoghue

Nothing matches a parent’s love and what they’ll do to keep their children safe. In Donoghue’s page-turner of a novel, five-year-old Jack tells the story of growing up in a single room with his mother, and the life she has created for him while they’re held captive by the man who kidnapped her seven years ago. Both mother and son exhibit remarkable resilience, which is good because they’ll need if they want to escape.


Book Cover Station Eleven

Station Eleven, by Emily St. Johm Mandel

What does civilization look like after societal collapse? Do we still find moments of beauty? Thankfully, in the world created by Emily St. John Mandel, art is arguably more crucial than ever. A band of actors travels from outpost to outpost, bringing joy through performance. When we discuss resilience, we often forget the importance of rest and restoration, which is certainly needed in uncertain times.


Book Cover The Birth House

The Birth House, by Ami McKay

Women throughout history have shown a high level of resilience in the face of patriarchal rule, often at great cost. McKay’s novel about a Nova Scotian midwife demonstrates the hurdles many women in the early 20th century faced when it came to birth, marriage, and career. Protagonist Dora Rare supports the women in her community through their challenges while also facing her own. This story reminds us that it not only takes a village to raise a child, but also to raise each other up.


Book Cover One Sunny Afternoon

Learn more about One Sunny Afternoon:

From the bestselling author of Love Lives Here, a deeply personal memoir about facing life-long trauma head-on, and bravely healing the scars that endure.

For writer and human rights advocate Rowan Jetté Knox, the inspiring story of his family’s journey of love and acceptance, when both his child and partner came out as transgender one after the other, was the hopeful beginning to their new lives. Their tale, shared in Rowan’s memoir Love Lives Here and embraced by readers everywhere, quickly found its way to the top of bestseller lists.

Yet in the spring of 2020, Rowan began to experience targeted attacks on social media, and he soon became the subject of a small but very vocal group that criticized his book’s success and his advocacy work. The intensity of the backlash grew and drove Rowan to contemplate suicide. But instead of taking his life, on one sunny afternoon, he went to the hospital to seek help.

One Sunny Afternoon is a searing testament to Rowan Jetté Knox’s extraordinary reckoning of his past and present to find hope in his future. Triggered by the online harassment, he wades through his personal history and details the incidents of violence, addiction and sexual assault that have haunted him. When Rowan eventually receives a complex trauma disorder diagnosis and dedicates himself to recovery, he emerges with newfound strength, resiliency and confidence.

One Sunny Afternoon is a profoundly moving and candid account of how trauma can shape us rather than define us, and reveals how even in our darkest moments—and on our most hopeless days—light can find its way in.

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