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Stumbling Into the Dark

A recommended reading list by the author of the new book Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit.

Book Cover Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

In Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, the young protagonist, Millicent, makes a lot of questionable decisions. She moves to the Yukon with an open heart to find adventure, and as the northern winter grows cold and dark and she falls into a toxic relationship with a much older man who lives on a renovated school bus, she begins to lose her sense of self, her confidence and her inner compass.

I’m drawn to coming-of-age stories about young women who stumble and fall into dark places and find a way to claw their way back out. All too often young women are still shamed for navigating a difficult path in life. Yet, these are the people that learn grit, bravery and resilience early on. These are the people who, as they grow older, are helping younger women navigate this hard and messy thing we call life.

Whether fiction, memoir or essays, whether the main character is “likeable” or not, these eight books are driven by voice, vulnerability and authenticity. Sometimes they’re uncomfortable to read. Other times they’re laugh-out-loud funny. What they all have in common is they speak truths of why growing into womanhood is both a painful and beautiful process.


Book Cover Once Upon an Effing Time

Once Upon an Effing Time, by Buffy Cram

Buffy Cram’s novel Once Upon an Effing Time is driven by voice. It’s a distinct, vulnerable, brave and hilarious voice that makes the novel so deeply immersive. The novel follows Elizabeth in two threads: the present day as a young woman at a halfway house in Vancouver, and in the past as she and her mentally unstable embark on a frenzied road trip on a school bus where Elizabeth is tasked with playing a child fortune-teller named MeMe in order to make some cash. I both felt deeply distraught by this emotional story and I laughed out loud, which I see as the markers of a truly remarkable piece of work.


Book Cover Heart Berries

Heart Berries, by Terese Mailhot

I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time while reading Heart Berries. Self-aware, poetic and startling, this memoir is the raw telling of Mailhot’s experience as an Indigenous woman living through the effects abuse, racism, substance abuse, self -harm and more. It’s the distinctness of her voice that carries this slim memoir to such great heights. It’s a voice that tells a clear-eyed story of survival through the poison of intergenerational trauma, all with a tender heart and a writing style that shows both intimacy and restraint at once.


Book Cover SHut Up Youre Pretty

Shut Up You're Pretty, by Téa Mutonji

If I were to sum up this novel in short stories in one word, it would be urgent. Shut Up You’re Pretty is a series of stories about Loli, a young Black woman who grows up in the Toronto suburb Scarborough. The story is driven by a lack of willingness to apologize for what it means to be a young woman in a society she never feels she belongs in. With sharp insight, confidence and vulnerability, Mutonji explores themes of sexuality and desire, poverty, friendship and family with such urgency and momentum that I could have easily read another 100 pages.


Book Cover 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, by Mona Awad 

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is another voice-driven narrative that is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Lizzie is obsessed with what so many people are obsessed with it—the meat suit she carries around with her all day. And that is exactly why this book is so successful. Awad hits on the vulnerable truth that is difficult to confront: we still live in a society infatuated with the physicality of the body. The size and shape of our body takes up more mental space than many of us are willing to admit. The dialogue is pitch-perfect and there is a certain wit in Awad’s tone that makes this debut hard to put down.


Book Cover Broughtupsy

Broughtupsy, by Christina Cooke 

This debut novel follows Akúa, a young, queer Jamaican woman living in Canada who travels home to Kingston after the death of her younger brother. It’s a novel driven and clouded by grief and a desire to figure out what home and family mean when we need them the most. The novel climaxes when Akúa meets the stripper Jayda and finds herself in an experience both wonderfully sexual and dangerous. An honest and complex story, Broughtupsy reveals a yearning we all for home, family, acceptance and to feel raw emotions.


Book Cover Proof I Was Here

Proof I Was Here, by Becky Blake

In Proof I was Here, Becky Blake has created a character who is not afraid to make mistakes. After her fiancé breaks up with her and she is left on the Barcelona streets with nothing but the clothes on her back, protagonist Niki, drifts through the city of Barcelona as a pickpocket, a graffiti artist and a squatter. The novel is a fascinating look at the grit of a city that’s too easy to romanticise, but it’s also a story of longing for a place in the world after losing everything. In Niki, we remember that we are all flawed, and that every so often, it’s human nature to explore the dark underbelly of life.


Book Cover Modern Fables

Modern Fables, by Mikka Jacobsen 

In Modern Fables, Jacobsen has created a series interlinked essays that explore topics from the problematic advice of self-help gurus to why every man she dates on Tinder seems to be obsessed with Kurt Vonnegut. These coming-of-age essays are deeply personal yet offer a wider lens on what it means to be a woman, a writer and a lover in Canada right now. After reading each one, I felt as if I had finally cleaned the lens of my dirty glasses. I kept thinking, how does Jacobsen get everything so…right? Hilarious, relatable and frighteningly smart, Jacobsen’s writing is a celebration of just how powerful the essay form can be in examining why we live the way we do.


Book Cover Motherlike

Motherlike, by Katherine Leyton

I was on the fence about including Motherlike in this list, as it’s somewhat of a departure from the theme of coming-of-age through stumbling into the dark. Yet, Leyton has created such an intimate and urgent book on the complexities of pregnancy and motherhood that I just had to. Weaving cultural commentary and historical research with her own experience of becoming a mother in breathtaking vignettes, this is a story that examines womanhood through the lens of one of the most painful and joyful experiences a human can have. As a new mother myself, I devoured this book in just a few sittings.


Book Cover Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit

Learn more about Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit:

A young woman’s coming-of-age through a toxic relationship, isolation, and betrayal—set against the stark landscape of the far north

Millicent is a shy twenty-four-year-old reporter who moves to Whitehorse to work for a failing daily newspaper. With winter looming and the Yukon descending into darkness, Millicent begins a relationship with Pascal, an eccentric and charming middle-aged filmmaker who lives on a converted school bus in a Walmart parking lot. What begins as a romantic adventure soon turns toxic, and Millicent finds herself struggling not to lose herself and her voice.

Events come to a head at Thaw di Gras, a celebration in faraway Dawson City marking the return of light to the north. It’s here, in a frontier mining town filled with drunken tourists, eclectic locals, and sparkling burlesque dancers, that Millicent must choose between staying with Pascal or finally standing up to her abuser.

In the style of Ottessa Moshfegh’s honest exploration of dysfunctional relationships, and with the warmth and energy of Heather O’Neill, Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit illuminates what it’s like to be young, impulsive, and in love in one of the harshest environments in the world.

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