This year is being celebrated as Canada’s 150th birthday… which is kind of weird across the board anyway because obviously the land that is now Canada has a much longer history and there’s a lot in those 150 years that are worth critiquing, not celebrating.
However, what is worth celebrating are all the great books that have come from this country. So here are 10 Canadian books that I think you should read.
Canadian History for Dummies, Will Ferguson
Starting with the basics! When I moved here I didn’t now anything about Canadian history and this book was an excellent starting point. Funny, well-written, starting from pre-colonial and covering all major events, it gave me a starting point for understanding Canadian culture. I’ve probably forgotten 90% of it, which puts me right on par with Canadians my age who have forgotten everything they learned in school. Now if only I’d grown up with the house hippo I’d fit right in…
Ragged Company, Richard Wagamese
This is one of the first Canadian books I read when I got here, recommended by my cousin, and it has stuck with me ever since. Five homeless people winning the lottery might sound like the start of a fairy tale, but money isn’t a cure-all. This is a really beautiful book about overcoming trauma, about friendship, and what can happen when we are willing to open ourselves up to others.
The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King
Want an accessible and funny guide to indigenous issues in Canada and the USA? This book manages to be both irreverent and important. Subtitled “The curious history of native people in North America”, King’s book vividly connects the historical facts of genocide and land theft to the people it’s still effecting today.
Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson
Teenage girls fighting the regime were all the rage a few years ago. The fad may have passed (has it? I’m out of touch with YA fiction) but this homegrown dystopic novel is worth reading for a great heroine, familiar Toronto sites (gang-run Eaton Centre, anyone?), and Hopkinson’s use of Caribbean mythology and culture to build her world.
Birdie, Tracey Lindberg
Funny, moving and truly engrossing, you get to really sink into the main character in a way that feels like a privilege. Birdie hasn’t gotten out of bed in days and her boss/landlady/friend has called in her family to help her. We follow as Birdie revisits her life, while her cousin and aunt try to bring her back to the present.
I am Woman, Lee Maracle
Are you only going to read one book on this list? Read this one. It’s not an easy read, but it’s important, especially for anyone living on colonized land. Lee Maracle writes wonderfully, she is thoughtful and pushes the reader to think for themselves, to question her findings, to disagree with her. The book is more than 20 years old so some of the ideas feel old-fashioned now, it’s nice to know that new voices are constantly moving us forward, but this makes an excellent primer for further reading.
On the Shores of Darkness There Is a Light, Cordelia Strube
This book destroyed my soul… So you should definitely read it. When done well I really like books with children as the protagonist and this is one of the best. The main character is an 11-year-old girl, whose brother has a life-threatening birth defect. She’s funny and honest and a little mean. She’s precocious in some ways, but hopelessly naive in others and throughout the book I just wanted to stop her and tell her “Just hang on a few more years and it will get easier, I promise.”
Ru, Kim Thúy
Somehow Kim Thúy manages to tell a rich, vivid, detailed family history purely in tiny powerful vignettes. This book reads almost more like poetry than prose, and it can be lingered over and savoured because the words are so rich. Equally powerful is the story of three generations moving from Vietnam to Montreal.
The Conjoined, Jen Sookfong Lee
What if shortly after your mother died, you were cleaning out her basement and found a dead body in the freezer? Honestly, if that doesn’t sell you on this book then I don’t know what will. I’ve read a couple books by Jen Sookfong Lee and they’ve all been excellent.
We’re All In This Together, Amy Jones
After their mother goes over a waterfall in a barrel, twins end up re-united after many years apart. Despite some crazy goings on (including but not limited to the barrel) this book still felt very true to life in a small town, both the good and the bad. What it means to leave and what it takes to return.