6 things you need to know about Annabel

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Annabel is one of the five contenders for Canada Reads 2014. Actor Sarah Gadon chose it as the book she will defend during the debates March 3-6 on CBC Radio, CBC Books and CBC-TV. 

If you haven't had time to read Kathleen Winter's award-winning novel yet, never fear! The Canada Reads team is here to give you what you need to know about this book so you can head to that cocktail party (or, uh, book club -- we won't tell!) with confidence.


1. The setting is rural Labrador

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Photo credit: CBC still collection, Pouch Cove, Newfoundland.

Annabel takes place in Croydon Harbour, a fictional town in rural Labrador. Kathleen Winter spent 15 years in Newfoundland and has a strong connection to the east coast. Although Croydon Harbour is fictional, in an interview on The Next Chapter, Winter said "there are parts of Croydon Harbour that are actual parts of Labrador where I have been and stayed and observed, but they're collaged."

The setting of rural Labrador heavily influences the characters. Wayne grows up learning the values and customs of rural Labrador like trapping and fishing, but the setting he is raised in doesn't make him feel quite at home.


2. The main character, Wayne, is born intersex

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The story begins in 1968 when the child of a trapper named Treadway and his wife, Jacinta, is born. The child is born intersex with both female and male anatomy. When Treadway and Jacinta find out their baby has the anatomy of both female and male, the doctor tells them it's best to decide the sex they wish to raise their child. They choose male and the doctor gives them hormonal pills for Wayne to take. 


3. Wayne doesn't find out he's intersex until he's a teenager


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Wayne's parents decide not to tell him he is intersex, despite the fact that some people in the town know, like Jacinta's best friend Thomasina. Wayne is told that the pills he takes are for a heart condition. He doesn't find out the truth about his identity until he has health complications caused by puberty. Finally, Thomasina, his mother's friend and his teacher, tells him the truth.


More from Canada Reads:

6 Things you need to know about Half-Blood Blues

Kathleen Winter on The Next Chapter



4. Annabel is a secret name given to Wayne by his mother's friend and future teacher

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Annabel was the name of Thomasina's daughter, who passed away at a young age. Thomasina treasures the name Annabel and whispers it to Wayne in secret. When Wayne is very young, Thomasina would call him Annabel when they were alone. At the time, Wayne thought he was being called a nonsense nickname, but eventually figures out the truth.


5. Annabel takes place in the late 1960s

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Annabel tracks the life of Wayne from his birth in 1968 to his early adulthood in the 1970s. The 1960s and '70s culture from the outside world seeps into the town of Croydon Harbour. David Bowie is played at their prom and 1970s fashion trends influence Wayne's high school classmates. During Wayne's childhood, he's attracted to the glitzy world of synchronized swimming, fashion and music. After school, together with his only friend Wally, they listen to music and dream of a world beyond Labrador. 


6. Wayne is an outsider

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Photo credit: CBC Still collection, an isolated school in rural Newfoundland.

Although he doesn't know the truth about his identity, Wayne knows he's different from an early age. He doesn't fit in with the rest of the kids and his only friend is a girl named Wally, and even with her he doesn't feel like he can be 100 per cent himself. 

Wayne has peculiar interests -- he's really into synchronized swimming, building bridges and geometry. Unlike most people in his town, he has an interest in the outside world. When Thomasina travels outside of Labrador, she sends him postcards and this piques his interest in travelling. His outsider status and worldly interests bring him outside of Croydon Harbour. His first stop is St. John's. His next stop could be anywhere.



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