26 Canadian books that won awards in the first half of 2018

Canadian writers have been busy collecting awards from all over the world this year so far.

Canadian writers have been busy collecting awards from all over the world this so far year. Here's a round-up of some award-winning literature from the first half of 2018.

Fiction | NonfictionPoetry | Children's books and YA | Comics


The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient tied with Barry Unsworth's The Sacred Hunger to win the Booker Prize in 1992. (Vintage Canada/Chris Young/Canadian Press)

What it's about: Co-winner of the 1992 Man Booker Prize (tied with Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger), The English Patient takes place in an Italian villa at the end of the Second World War. Hana, a nurse, Caravaggio, a thief, and Kip, a sapper, have suffered through a terrible war — but perhaps none more so than the mysterious burn patient they care for in the upstairs room. The remarkable story of the English Patient, as they call him, emerges in fragments of passion, betrayal and daring. 

It won: The Golden Man Booker Prize, a special one-off competition pitting the past 51 winners of the Man Booker Prize against each other. After a public vote, The English Patient was declared the best of the Booker Prize.

Gone to Pot by Jennifer Craig

Jennifer Craig is the author of the humourous novel Gone to Pot. (Fred Rosenberg, Story Press)

What it's about: In Gone to Pot, B.C. nurse-turned-novelist Jennifer Craig writes about a grandmother who has lost her job and resorts to growing marijuana to make ends meet. Balancing her life as a doting grandmother, respected community member and drug dealer turns out to be trickier than expected.​

It won: The Leacock Medal for Humour, an annual $15,000 prize awarded to the best in Canadian literary humour.

Wigford Rememberies by Kyp Harness

Kyp Harness is a singer-songwriter and author. (Nightwood Editions)

What it's about: Wigford Rememberies tells the stories of the residents in a small rural community in southwestern Ontario. Wigford's citizens have many problems, including wishing they married someone other than their husband and figuring out how to manipulate God into forgiving you. 

It won: The ReLit Award for fiction, a prize for the best Canadian novel published by an independent press.

Bad Things Happen by Kris Bertin

Kris Bertin is the author of Bad Things Happen, a collection of short stories. (

What it's about: Kris Bertin's first short story collection is about people who are between things — jobs, relationships and states of being. The characters featured in the book range from professors to small-time criminals, but all are living on the cusp of change.

It won: The ReLit Award for short fiction, a prize for the best Canadian short story collection published by an independent press.

Sleeping in the Ground by Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson is the author of Sleeping in the Ground. (McClelland & Stewart/Paul Hansen)

What it's about: A shocking mass murder at a small wedding brings Alan Banks to Yorkshire Dales. It doesn't take long to find and arrest the shooter, but Banks and his colleagues Annie Cabbot and Gerry Masterson have their doubts about the suspect. Banks keeps digging, unearthing perilous secrets and strange clues along the way. 

It won: The Arthur Ellis Award for best novel, an annual prize celebrating Canadian crime writing.

The Water Beetles by Michael Kaan 

The Water Beetles is Michael Kaan's first book. (Leif Norman, Goose Lane Editions)

What it's about: In The Water Beetles, the lives of the wealthy Leung family are catastrophically altered by the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong in December 1941. The youngest boy, Chung-Man, leaves home with some of his siblings, seeking refuge in the countryside, only to be captured and tortured by Japanese soldiers. Chung-Man survives this torment, but lives the rest of his life with deep scars.

It won: The First Novel Award, an annual $40,000 prize recognizing the best debut novel by a Canadian writer.

American War by Omar El Akkad

Omar El Akkad's debut novel is American War. (Peter Power/CBC)

What it's about: A Second American Civil war has broken out and Sarat Chestnut was born on the losing side. Raised primarily in a refugee camp in the south, Sarat is shaped by displacement and loss and becomes an instrument of war. Addressing themes of environmental collapse, social division and foreign interference, this novel follows the radicalization of a person. Prize judge Lori Lansens said, "With beautifully crafted prose, deft character strokes and a propulsive narrative, Omar El Akkad creates a hellish, all-too-believable ethical wasteland."

It won: The Kobo Emerging Writers Prize for fiction, an annual $10,000 award that recognizes up-and-coming Canadian fiction writers.

The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal

The Lost Ones is Sheena Kamal's debut novel. (HarperCollins/Malcolm Tweedy)

What it's about: The daughter Nora Watts gave up for adoption 15 years earlier has gone missing and the police have given up the search, deeming her "a chronic runaway." Watts, a biracial woman who grew up in foster care, takes to the Vancouver streets with her dog Whisper to look for Bonnie at the behest of her desperate adoptive parents. Kamal's debut was praised by prize judge Linwood Barclay for deftly casting "a critical eye on Vancouver's societal dysfunction, racism and poverty."

It won: The Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for mystery, an annual $10,000 award that recognizes up-and-coming Canadian mystery writers.

Full Curl by Dave Butler

Full Curl is Dave Butler's first novel and kicks off the Jenny Willson mystery series. (Dundurn)

What it's about: Banff National Park warden Jenny Willson hates two types of people: poachers and power-hungry bureaucrats. When animals start disappearing from the park, Willson starts an investigation that will take her across the Canada-U.S. border and won't end before the body count — both human and animal — rises.

It won: The Arthur Ellis Award for best first crime novel, an annual prize for a Canadian writer's crime writing debut.


Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

Mark Sakamoto's memoir Forgiveness was successfully defended by Jeanne Beker on Canada Reads 2018. (CBC)

What it's about: In this memoir, Mark Sakamoto reflects on his grandparents' hardships during the Second World War and learns an invaluable lesson on forgiveness in the process. His paternal grandmother, Mitsue Sakamoto, endured racist attacks on the Japanese-Canadian community in B.C. and was interned by the Canadian government. On his mother's side, Sakamoto's grandfather Ralph MacLean was a soldier stationed in Japan where he was held as a Japanese prisoner of war. Years later, MacLean's daughter and Mitsue Sakamoto's son would fall in love and get married.

It won: Canada ReadsCBC's annual literary debate show. Five prominent Canadians defend a book they are passionate about over four days of debate. On each episode, one book is voted off until a final winner remains. Forgiveness was championed by fashion journalist Jeanne Beker.

The Whisky King by Trevor Cole

Trevor Cole is the author of Whisky King. (Fehn Foss/HarperCollins Canada)

What it's about: The Whisky King is the true tale of two Italian immigrants: Rocco Perri, the head of a major crime family in Canada, and Frank Zaneth, the RCMP's first undercover operative. Perri ran one of the biggest bootlegging operations in central Canada during Prohibition. Zaneth is the agent who made it a personal mission to send the crime boss to prison — until one day Perri disappeared without a trace.

It won: The Arthur Ellis Award for best nonfiction book, an annual prize given to a nonfiction book about crime.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

Tanya Talaga highlights the lives of seven Indigenous teachers in Seven Fallen Feathers. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star/House of Anansi)

What it's about: Tanya Talaga's book explores racism in northern Ontario through the lives seven Indigenous teenagers, who died in Thunder Bay while forced to attend high school hundreds of kilometres away from their families. The seven high school students, Jordan Wabasse, Kyle Morrisseau, Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, Paul Panacheese, Reggie Bushie and Jethro Anderson, died between 2000 and 2011.

It won: The RBC Taylor Prize, a $30,000 prize recognizing the best in Canadian literary nonfiction, and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize, a $25,000 award for a book of political nonfiction that "has the potential to shape or influence thinking."

Stumbling Giants by Patricia Meredith & James L. Darroch

James L. Darroch and Patricia Meredith are co-authors of Stumbling Giants. (Will Pemulis/Rotman-UTP Publishing)

What it's about: Stumbling Giants examines how Canada's big six banks survived the 2008 financial crisis by using traditional and tested banking practices, making them a safe harbour at that time.

It won: The Donner Prize, a $50,000 award given to the best book on Canadian public policy research.

Vimy by Tim Cook

Tim Cook is a military historian at the Canadian War Museum and author of Vimy: The Battle and The Legend. (John Williams)

What it's about: The Battle of Vimy Ridge is often described as "the birth of a nation." Over 10,600 soldiers were killed during the First World War battle, which also marked the first time the four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together. In his comprehensive book, historian Tim Cook explores the legacy of this pivotal event over the last century.

It won: The J.W. Dafoe Book Prize, a $10,000 prize recognizing a work of nonfiction about Canada.


This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt

Billy-Ray Belcourt (Frontenac House)

What it's about: In his debut collection of poetry This Wound is a World, Billy-Ray Belcourt envisions a 'decolonial kind of heaven that is searchable, findable.' The book issues a call to turn to love and sex to understand how Indigenous peoples shoulder sadness and pain without giving up on the future.

It won: The Griffin Poetry Prize, a $65,000 award that is one of the richest in the world for a book of poetry.

Otolith by Emily Nilsen

Emily Nilsen is the author of the poetry collection Otolith. (Kari Medig/Goose Lane Editions)

What it's about: Otolith takes readers through the lush B.C. wilderness and peers in on small, intensified moments of human life in nature. Emily Nilsen lives in Nelson, B.C. and this is her first book.

It won: The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, an annual $2,000 prize for a book of poetry by an emerging Canadian writer.

Indianland by Lesley Belleau

Lesley Belleau's poetry collection Indianland is written from a female and Indigenous point of view and incorporates Anishinaabemowin throughout.

What it's about: Lesley Belleau weaves Anishinaabemowin throughout her rich poetry collection Indianlandwhich explores themes of longing, memory, sexuality and birth. Belleau references specific political and social issues in her poetry, including missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Belleau is an Anishinaabekwe writer and poet based in Garden River First Nation (Ojibwe) near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

It won: The Pat Lowther Memorial Award, an annual $2,000 prize that recognizes a book of poetry written by a woman in Canada.

Cloud Physics by Karen Enns

Cloud Physics is an award-winning poetry collection by Karen Enns. (University of Regina Press)

What it's about: Cloud Physics draws from the natural world to explore the many confounding layers of human existence. Love, music and history are examined through the lens of Enns' lyrical poetry, which effectively contrasts scientific terminology against vibrant, warm imagery.

It won: The Raymond Souster Award, an annual $2,000 prize given to a poetry book published by a member of the League of Canadian Poets.

All the Gold Hurts My Mouth by Katherine Leyton

All the Gold Hurts My Mouth by Katherine Leyton is published by Goose Lane. (

What it's about: With wit, warmth and resolution, Katherine Leyton's All the Gold Hurts My Mouth criticizes the male gaze and delves into the many layers of 21st-century sexual politics. With "unflinching and raw lyricism," Leyton examines the powerful onslaught of images in culture, as well as the undercurrents of violence and isolation pervasive in media.

It won: The ReLit Award for poetry, an annual prize for a Canadian poetry book published by an independent press.

Children's books and YA

Town Is by the Sea written by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith

Town Is by the Sea is a picture book written by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith. (Groundwood Books/Steve Farmer)

What it's about: Town Is by the Sea is a tribute to Canadian mining towns. Set on Canada's east coast in the 1950s, the book follows a young boy's summer day as he runs errands for his mother, visits his grandfather's grave and plays on the swings with his friend. All the while, the boy's thoughts drift to the sea by his home and to his father, who is mining coal deep beneath the sea.

It won: Britain's CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal, a prestigious £5,000 ($8,751.00 Cdn) recognizing the talent of children's book illustrators.

Chase by Linwood Barclay

Chase by Linwood Barclay is a novel aimed at readers aged 8 to 12. (Bill Taylor)

What it's about: Chipper is part dog and part robot, the result of an experiment at a secret organization known as The Institute. But as Chipper fails over and over again to control his natural instincts, he realizes he must flee or face elimination. While on the run, Chipper is hit by a car driven by a 12-year-old boy named Jeff, but their meeting is far from accidental. Linwood Barclay is an international bestselling author of thrillers.

It won: The Arthur Ellis Award for best juvenile/YA book, an annual prize for mystery books targeted to younger readers.


Crawl Space by Jesse Jacobs

Jesse Jacobs is the author of Crawl Space. (Courtesy of Koyama Press)

What it's about: In Jesse Jacobs' Crawl Space, a bored suburban teen discovers that the laundry machines in her new house are a portal to a peaceful other-world. Her fellow high schoolers show up to party and end up trashing the higher plane, disrupting the rainbow world's peaceful habitants. 

It won: The Doug Wright Best Book Award, an annual prize for the best Canadian comic book of the previous year.

Magical Beatdown Vol. 2 and Marie and Worrywart by Jenn Woodall

Jenn Woodall is an illustrator and comics creator in Toronto. (Submitted by Jenn Woodall)

What it's about: Magical Beatdown Vol. 2 is a comic series about an awkward schoolgirl who has the power to transform into a violent, foul-mouthed sociopath. Her prime targets are street harassers. Marie and Worrywart, on the other hand, is a comic collection about a young woman and her constant companion, anxiety.

It won: The Doug Wright Spotlight Award, which is given annually to a creator deserving of wider recognition.

The Dead Father by Sami Alwani

The Dead Father is Sami Alwani's first book. (Submitted by Sami Alwani/Philip Ocampo)

What it's about: This self-published comic book by Sami Alwani tells the tale of two existential crises: a father and son navigate their own personal reckonings, while also coming to terms with their tumultuous relationship. The Dead Father is Sami Alwani's first book.

It won: The Pigskin Peters Award, which is given to the "most experimental, unconventional or avant-garde comic of the year."

Boundless by Jillian Tamaki

Jillian Tamaki is the author of the comics collection Boundless. (Reynard Li/Drawn & Quarterly)

What it's about: Boundless is a collection of graphic stories by three-time Eisner Award winner Jillian Tamaki. With touches of magical realism, the book focuses the interior lives of contemporary, anxiety-ridden city dwellers. Humour and emotion tie the shifting aesthetics of this beautifully drawn book together.

It won: The Eisner Award for best graphic album — reprint. The Eisners are often referred to as the Oscars of the comics world and are awarded each year at San Diego Comic Con. Prizes are voted on by professionals in the industry.

Trust No Aunty by Maria Qamar

Maria Qamar has translated her South Asian background into pop art, which has garnered her Instagram handle @hatecopy more than 100,000 followers. (Touchstone/The National)

What it's about: Based on her popular Instagram @Hatecopy, Maria Qamar's Trust No Aunty is a humorous graphic "survival guide" about growing up in a family of South Asian immigrants in Canada. Prize judge Jay Ingram praised Qamar for the "lighthearted way she weaves together art, human nature and culture and leaves the reader enlightened, or at least more aware, than before."

It won: The Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for nonfiction, an annual $10,000 award that recognizes up-and-coming Canadian nonfiction writers.


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