Canada Reads 2018 starts Monday, March 26, and continues to the 29th. This year’s theme: One book to open your eyes. The longlist seemed particularly strong to me this year, and I would like to have read them all. Unfortunately, because of time and availability, I’m struggling to get the 5 from the shortlist read. Here is what I managed to cobble together…
Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson — defended by Greg Johnson, one of North America’s top professional storm-chasers and severe weather experts.
I read and reviewed Precious Cargo in April, 2016. I was interested in reading it partly because of the subject matter, and partly because the author is well know for his dark literary fiction and horror novels. Imagine my surprise in finding out that his memoir was endearing, insightful, and amusing. Who would have guessed that Craig Davidson had always been considered the class clown?
What I liked most about the book was the story of the kids on his bus – all of which have a “special need”. Davidson had no experience with special needs kids when taking the job as their bus driver. His story is well worth learning about.
Will it do well in the debates? I have come to learn over the years that the best book does not always win, and that there is no predicting which book is going to do well and which is not. But it has potential. One thing Precious Cargo has going for it that many Canada Reads books do not is its humour. I think Davidson’s voice will appeal to a lot of readers.
Here’s the thing: everyday was the best day, even the crappiest ones. Every single day I spent with those kids. And I was grateful, so incredibly grateful, because I knew I’d done nothing to deserve it.
Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto — defended by Jeanne Beker, the host of Fashion Television, among many other accomplishments.
Forgiveness is the story of Mark Sakamoto’s grandparents – his paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather – and how they came to, not only forgive and accept, but to love and respect each other after the harrowing experiences they went through.
At the same time as Mark’s grandfather was being tortured and starved in a POW camp in Japan, his Japanese-Canadian grandmother was stripped of her dignity and sent away from her home to labour on a sugar beet farm in rural Alberta.
Not only is this a personal story of courage and forgiveness, but it’s also informative. It goes into the plight of the Canadian soldiers who were sent to Hong Kong with very little military support, as well as the politics behind the treatment of the Japanese in Canada during the war.
Escott Reid, a long-time External Affairs official, later wrote, “I felt in that committee room in the presence of evil.” Pearl Harbour was a gift to biggots who wanted to remove the Japanese from B.C. and its economy. It mattered little that Canada’s national security – army, navy, and RCMP – were all on record stating there was no national security issue. Vitriol of that degree gets attention. It whips up, it grows, and it often wins.
At times I found the writing somewhat flawed, but thought that the incredible nature of the story made up for what small faults were to be found. Even though I have read books on this subject before, I still find the prejudism of the time shocking. And his own personal experience with his mother is tragic.
The subject matter reminded me of similar stories I have read and would recommend to anyone interested in reading more: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, Obasan by Joy Kogawa (my thoughts), The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake (my thoughts).
In terms of the Canada Reads debates, I think readers will be drawn to the fact that this book is based on a true story, and struck by the characters’ abilities to rise above anger and resentment to arrive at love and forgiveness.
American War by Omar El Akkad — defended by Tahmoh Penikett, an actor from the Yukon.
There are so many things in this book you could focus on; politics, world building, gender differences, class differences, environmental issues, plausibility, and the burning questions about the story itself.
This is what I think the book has going for it – its potential for conversation. It gives readers a lot to think about, relating to the world today and how these issues might take us into the future.
One downfall it might have for some readers (and we have seen this before in the CR debates) is the desolation and violence. There is a war going on, after all. Some of it is hard to read, but in my opinion, necessary to understand the main character and how she went from a curious, innocent girl to an angry, destructive adult.
This isn’t a story about war. It’s about ruin.
The structure of the story is compelling; it’s told from the perspective of a character living in the far north in the future whom we don’t know yet. Near the end of the book, his part in the story is revealed, bringing some relief to the reader as the focus takes a slight shift from the tragedy of Sarat’s life to the narrator. The story ends on an emotional note, reminding us of the happy little girl at the beginning of the book. (That, by then, feels so long ago.)
I belong to what they call the Miraculous Generation: those born in the years between the start of the Second American Civil War in 2074 and its end in 2095. Some extend the definition further, including those born during the decade-long plague that followed the end of the war. This country has a long history of defining its generations by the conflicts that should have killed them, and my generation is no exception. We are the few who escaped the wrath of the homicide bombers and the warring Birds; the few who were spirited into well-stocked cellars or tornado shelters before the Reunification Plague spread across the continent. The few who were just plain lucky.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline — defended by Jully Black, “Canada’s queen of R&B”.
The Marrow Thieves is the winner of the 2017 Governor General’s Award for young people. I really wanted to read it before the debates, but unfortunately it hasn’t come in for me yet. The good news is that this means other people in town are reading it!
Update: My review of The Marrow Thieves
Goodreads synopsis: In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the “recruiters” who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing “factories.”
Here are some trusted blogger reviews you can check out:
Buried in Print: “The aspect of this story which I most enjoyed and most dreaded were the creation stories, which are called “coming-to” stories. These are devastating and brutal accounts of suffering which led this small group of survivalists to walk this path together. They pepper the narrative and gradually secure readers’ investment in the characters, defying readers to remain indifferent.”
The Indextrious Reader: “It’s a really interesting take on the dystopian trend, incorporating many ideas and themes that are based in an Indigenous perspective, with white characters not present much at all. The characters are well drawn and the set up is different from other dystopian stories, so well worth exploring.”
ebookclassics: “I love dystopias, but I was particularly enamoured with The Marrow Thieves because of the Indigenous culture weaved into the story. I thought the way the group tried to keep their culture alive by sharing stories and language reflected the challenges Indigenous people face today.”
A Year of Books: “According to an interview on CBC’s Unreserved, she wrote the novel as a reaction to the high levels of suicide among indigenous youth. The Marrow Thieves started as a short story and her goal was to show the YA audience a story where indigenous youth were the heroes, saving the world.”
The Boat People by Sharon Bala — defended by Mozhdah Jamalzadah, the “Oprah of Afghanistan”.
Another book that didn’t make it into my hands in time. Although, I still hold out some hope for reading it before the debates are over… It seems to be a popular book right now, and is receiving many positive reviews, in which it is often described as an “important book”. (Which, I have to admit, turns me off a bit.)
Goodreads synopsis: When a rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war reaches Vancouver’s shores, the young father thinks he and his six-year-old son can finally start a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into a detention processing center, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among the “boat people” are members of a separatist militant organization responsible for countless suicide attacks—and that these terrorists now pose a threat to Canada’s national security. As the refugees become subject to heavy interrogation, Mahindan begins to fear that a desperate act taken in Sri Lanka to fund their escape may now jeopardize his and his son’s chance for asylum.
Some trusted blogger reviews to check out:
Bookish Beck: “The scenes set in Sri Lanka are particularly vivid. Bala has drawn on her own family’s history. Although all of the characters are fictional, she has reproduced some actual words from refugees’ anonymous testimony.”
I’ve Read This: “I adored this book. I found it difficult to read, and when I finished each chapter I had to put it down and sigh out my emotions, but I already know this will be one of the best books I read this year, if not THE best.”
ebookclassics: “While Mahindan’s story is fictional, all refugee stories are beautiful when you hear about the hard choices people made to survive and trace the unique paths they took to arrive in our country. That’s what I found so touching about reading The Boat People. It’s about hope and how nothing is ever black and white, except the human desire for freedom, safety and love.”
The Paperback Princess: “I think that The Boat People can be the kind of book a lot of people should read. It clearly did open my eyes to suffering in a part of the world I wasn’t paying attention to. But I’m not sure that this is the one book that will force the entire country to open their eyes and pay attention.”
Laura from Reading In Bed has posted a Canada Reads breakdown, as well as her thoughts on three of the books (including the two I haven’t read), on her YouTube channel.
I will update this post at the end of each day to let you know which book has been voted off, and which one is the winner at the end of the week.
Have you read any of the Canada Reads books? Will you be tuning in this year? Any favourites or predictions?
Day 1: The Boat People voted off. Boo. (Day 1 Replay)
Day 2: Precious Cargo voted off. Not surprising to see it go, but the way it went kind of surprised me. (Day 2 Replay)
Day 3: The Marrow Thieves is gone. Boo!! (Day 3 Replay)
Day 4: American War is voted out, and Forgiveness is the winner. Not sure how I feel about this. However, I enjoyed this year’s CR more than last year’s. (Day 4 Replay)