Atlantic Book Awards: Mothers and Daughters, Nuns, Opiates, Stonings, and Missing Left Arms

The Atlantic Book Awards Festival and Gala take place from May 6th to May 13th. I tried to read as many of the books as I could before then–and I’m happy with the number I was able to read–but getting them all written about was a different matter altogether. So, here are a bunch of mini-reviews – I may come back to some of them at more length in the future. I enjoyed every one of them.

Aftershock by Alison Taylor, nominated for the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award – Fiction

Aftershock is about a mother and young-adult daughter who are at a breaking point with each other. Both are still grieving over the loss of a child/sister and letting it push them further and further apart. As the mother is trying to keep ahead of her opioid addiction, her daughter is traveling across the ocean, keeping people at a distance. Although the characters are not always likeable, Taylor writes about them with compassion and we long for them to heal and reconcile with themselves and each other.

Guilty. Her voice crumbled like dried crackers as it left her mouth. But within her, it resonated like a fundamental truth, a hibernating monster stirring in the back of its cave.

The Appendage Formerly Known as Your Left Arm by Julie Curwin, nominated for the Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award – Fiction

The Appendage Formerly Known as Your Left Arm is a short story collection with a doozy of a title. The stories are delightfully off-beat with surprising plot twists. Julie Curwin is a psychiatrist and it shows in her stories – one character in particular showing up in several stories with tales of her patients, while she is a patient herself in one of them. I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next.

Before you arrived at the conclusion that your arm had been stolen and replaced with a meat object , you were skeptical (and, if you are going to be honest, disappointed) when you were told there was no evidence of a stroke or a brain tumour. You asked to see the MRI of your brain and were secretly impressed by the plump contours of your own frontal lobes. You downloaded the image onto your iPhone and now take it out and look at it whenever you feel sad, like some weird neuroanatomical Narcissus.

Annaka by Andre Fenton, nominated for the Ann Connor Brimer Award for Children’s Literature

Annaka is a coming-of-age story about a mixed race girl with an imaginary friend who is not so imaginary. She and her mother return to their hometown after being away for almost ten years. Her grandfather has died and her grandmother has dementia and no longer remembers who Annaka is. Annaka re-connects with her childhood friend and, with her help as well as help from her “imaginary” friend, she works through her grief and anger.

“It’s not every day we see an African Nova Scotian fantasy novel.” 

Andre Fenton

Good Mothers Don’t by Laura Best, nominated for the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award (Fiction)

It is 1960 and Elizabeth has a good life with a husband and two children. But Elizabeth slowly loses her grip on reality and is taken away. Fifteen years later, we rejoin her – she is considered to be doing well and is living in a group home. The trouble is she can’t remember her life before; Does she have children? Where are they? Should she search for her past or leave it be? The story is told through alternate narratives, including her husband and daughter, giving us a bigger picture of the effects of mental illness in the mid-1900s.

What I realize now is that discovering the truth can sometimes be more painful than living with the lies.

The Silence of the Vessel by Brenda MacLennan-Dunphy, nominated for the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award (Fiction)

Cecelia wants to be a nun and her mother Elspeth doesn’t know what to do about it. As she and her daughter try to work out their differences, Cecelia befriends a nun in their community and brings her mother aboard to try to help the nun trace her family and her past – it’s been sixty years since she left home, pregnant, at the age of fifteen. The Silence of the Vessel touches on faith and clergy abuse as well as youth’s concern for the environmental mess that is being passed down to them.

Over and over again, the reach of the Church struck her. How it could inspire such loyalty and devotion, while ripping and tearing away at the fabric of people’s souls.

Some People’s Children by Bridget Canning, nominated for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award

A coming-of-age story of a girl raised by her grandmother in small town 1970s and 80s Newfoundland; a time of Depeche Mode, INXS, crimped hair, and banana clips. Imogene speaks to her mother in Ontario weekly on the phone, and has never met her father. Kids at school tease her about being the daughter of the town drunk because they have the same colour hair, and Imogene worries that it’s true. Some People’s Children explores the repercussions of small town gossip and the complications of family.

Anthony Green is spoken of in blasphemous tones; he is Unmentionable like dirty underwear and the secret name of God.

Speechless by Anne Simpson, nominated for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award

Speechless asks the question: Who has the right to tell someone else’s story? While in Nigeria, Sophie writes an article about a young Nigerian woman’s death sentence for adultery which sets off a terrible chain of events. As Sophie attempts to flee the country–and as her thoughts waver between the past and present–she reflects on what has happened and why. A beautifully told story that, in someone else’s hands, could have been a disaster.

It’s not merely a story, you understand. It’s someone’s life.

Other Atlantic Book Award finalists I’ve read: Dirty Birds by Morgan Murray, Boy With A Problem by Chris Benjamin, and Waking Ground by shalan joudry

Winners will be announce at the virtual Gala Thursday May 13th at 7:00 pm.

10 thoughts on “Atlantic Book Awards: Mothers and Daughters, Nuns, Opiates, Stonings, and Missing Left Arms

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    These all sound fantastic! And your capsule reviews and quotes give such a good sense of them. Well done for reading so much from the prize list — it’s a really satisfying thing to do, isn’t it?

  2. buriedinprint says:

    Ohhh, look, it’s the 13th! You are probably putting on your party dress right this minute and trying not to mess up your hair while you plate the dinner everyone else will be eating while you’re “at” the gala! Have a wonderful time!

    You know i loved Speechless. It should have gotten more attention, I think. But it’s Some People’s Children I’ll have to read if that’s the one for Depeche Mode fans. 🙂 And I echo the comments of those who have complimented your dedication to reading the prizelist!

    • Naomi says:

      I was so happy that Speechless won the Thomas Raddall! I think that’ll help give the book more attention. I did love the other two books, as well, but Speechess was the one I was rooting for. (Yes, you really should read the Canning!)

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