Winner of the Amazon.ca First Novel Award and a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award, The Break is a stunning and heartbreaking debut novel about a multigenerational Métis–Anishnaabe family dealing with the fallout of a shocking crime in Winnipeg’s North End.
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.
About the author
KATHERENA VERMETTE is a Métis writer from Treaty One territory, the heart of the Métis nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Her first book, North End Love Songs (The Muses Company), won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. Her National Film Board short documentary, this river, won the Coup de Coeur award at the Montreal First Peoples Festival and a Canadian Screen Award.
Her first novel, The Break, was a national bestseller and won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award; the Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Young Adult Literature; and three Manitoba Book Awards. It was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and CBC’s Canada Reads. She is also the author of the children’s picture book series The Seven Teaching Stories and recently published the first book, Pemmican Wars, in the young adult book series A Girl Called Echo. Ms. Vermette’s second book of poetry, river woman, is forthcoming in the fall of 2018 from House of Anansi Press.
- Short-listed, Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Literature
- Winner, Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction
- Winner, Amazon.ca First Novel Award
- Winner, McNally Robinson Book of the Year
- Winner, Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award
- Short-listed, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize
- Short-listed, Governor General's Literary Award
Stunning . . . [Vermette] chooses her words with a poet’s precision.
Literary Review of Canada
The narrator of this story is dead. He misses feeling the skin of others, but he likes being about memory. It’s who we are siem. Katherena Vermette rendered the women of the North End gorgeous in her poetry: North End Love Songs. In The Break, she renders them sweet, beautiful battlers who love under the most horrific of circumstances. She points no fingers, just plots the story, person by person, memory by memory, until it is clear that we must give up the feeling of hopelessness that haunts the lives of these women. The Break is itself a beautiful love song of desire to live a full and rich life as cherished women — even when we cannot have that. We can hope. Resilient as the star world from which they arise these women reconcile with their lives without giving in to the horrors they have faced. Vermette captures the reader from beginning to end. She creates unforgettable characters with honor, respect and a deft hand. In so doing she holds the reader’s tender love in her capable hands and weaves us right into the story. The Break is unforgettable.
Lee Maracle, author of Celia’s Song
Fiction is capable of helping us to comprehend difference and otherness, and The Break offers clear insight ino people struggling to secure a place in the world.
Quill and Quire
Katherena Vermette’s debut novel, The Break, takes a tough, close-up look at an extended family in Winnipeg, tackling along the way a side of female life that’s often hard to acknowledge: the violence of girls and women sometimes display towards other girls and women, and the power struggles among them. In The Break, the characters may be Métis, but the motivations and emotions are surely universal. This is an accomplished writer who will go far.
It’s a timely novel that will keep you turning the pages and make you think well after you’ve turned the final one.
Niagara This Week
One of the great Indigenous novels.
First Nations Voice
The Break manages to be political even when it isn’t. It’s a book that explores social issues without ever preaching, or even seeming to be about them at all. It examines the only element of those issues that matter: their human impact. It’s astonishing in its empathy... She doesn’t pull her punches or dress up her truths. The Break leaves it all bare, and it demands to be read.
A debut novel brimming with grace and wisdom, that puts the spotlight on the systemic violence being committed in our country, [The Break] is both a wake-up call and a call-to-arms. Vital.
Globe and Mail
Vermette is skilled at writing with a language that is conversational and comfortable and with a poetic ease that makes the hard things easier to swallow. The result is a book that is at times emotionally demanding, funny, suspenseful, and always engaging.
The Winnipeg Review
With adeptness and sensitivity, Vermette puts a human face to issues that are too-often misunderstood, and in so doing, she has written a book that is both one of the most important of the year and one of the best. Though Katherena Vermette is not an emerging writer – she has written seven children’s books and won a Governor General’s award for her poetry collection North End Love Songs – for many, this novel will be their first encounter. And it will be a revelation. Vermette is a fully matured literary talent confronting some of our society’s fundamental problems through understated prose that exudes wisdom and emotion. Every page hides beauty amid suffering; love winning out over violence and hate. Stella, at one point in the novel, thinks about “[a] story that didn’t happen to her but that she keeps and remembers.” The Break is like that; it is a story that will stick with you a long time.
The National Post
The lives of the girls and women in The Break are not easy, but their voices — complex, urgent, and unsparing — lay bare what it means to survive, not only once, but multiple times, against the forces of private and national histories. Katherena Vermette is a tremendously gifted writer, a dazzling talent.
Madeleine Thien, author of Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Katherena Vermette’s poignant novel, set in Winnipeg’s North End, opens with a violent crime that becomes the backdrop for a story of great depth and compassion. This masterfully written narrative shifts among the intergenerational voices of the women of one extended Indigenous family. The Break is a powerful, persuasive novel about the strength and love that bind these women to each other and to the men in their lives. The traditions and wisdom of a community are honoured, as is the exquisite individual humanity of each character. Although this is a novel of social importance, it transcends politics, taking the reader on a journey to the heart of what it means for one person to care about another, survive trauma, and endure.
2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Jury Lauren B. Davis, Trevor Ferguson, and Pasha Malla
Vermette offers us a dazzling portrayal of the patchwork quilt of pain and trauma that women inherit, of the "big and small half-stories that make up a life." These are the stories our mothers, sisters and friends have told us - the stories we absorb into our bloodstream until they might as well be our own.
..a stunning debut - a novel whose 10 voices, Greek chorus-like, span the full range of human possibility, from its lowest depths to its most brilliant triumphs, as they attempt to make sense of this tragic crime and of their own lives. "The Break" is an astonishing act of empathy, and its conclusion is heartbreaking. A thriller gives us easy answers - a victim and a perpetrator, good guys and bad guys. "The Break" gives us the actual mess of life.
The Globe and Mail
In Vermette’s poetic prose, The Break offers a stark portrayal of the adversity that plagues First Nations women in this country — and the strength that helps them survive.
The Toronto Star
A visionary debut novel.
Vermette is a staggering talent. Reading The Break is like a revelation; stunning, heartbreaking and glorious. From her exquisitely rendered characters to her fully realized world and the ratcheting tension, I couldn’t put it down. Absolutely riveting.
Eden Robinson, author of Monkey Beach