34 great Canadian books to check out in fall 2021
As the weather gets cooler, warm up with one of these great Canadian books.
Ring completes the quincunx of Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning writer André Alexis. When Helen Odhiambo Lloyd senses that her daughter Gwenhwyfar is in love, Helen gives her a ring that has been passed down for generations. The ring lets the bearer change three things about her beloved. It's a blessing, but also a curse.
The other titles in the quincunx are Pastoral, Fifteen Dogs, The Hidden Keys and Days by Moonlight. The novels all represent different genres, but deal in the same themes: faith, place, love, power and hatred. Ring focuses on love.
Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His novel Fifteen Dogs received the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and won Canada Reads 2017, when it was defended by Humble the Poet. His other books include Childhood and Asylum.
Kamal Al-Solaylee yearns to return to his homeland of Yemen, now wracked by war, starvation and daily violence, to reconnect with his family. His childhood homes call to him, even though he ran away from them in his youth and found peace and prosperity in Toronto. In Return, Al-Solaylee interviews people who have returned to their homelands or long to return to them. This book is a chronicle of love and loss, a book for anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to return to their roots.
Al-Solaylee is a professor and author. His other books include Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes and Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone). Intolerable was defended by Kristin Kreuk on Canada Reads 2015. Al-Solaylee holds a PhD in English and is the director of the University of British Columbia's school of journalism, writing and media.
In the novel All's Well, the accident that ended Miranda Fitch's acting career has made her life a living nightmare. She has excruciating, chronic pain, a failed marriage, a dependence on painkillers and she's on the verge of losing her job as college theatre director. She's still determined to put on Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well, even though her cast wants Macbeth. She meets three strange benefactors who know a little too much about her past and are promising her the future she wants.
Mona Awad is the author of Bunny and 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, which won the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, the Colorado Book Award and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. She currently lives in Boston.
As markets and businesses begin to close for the evening at the end of a long, sweltering day, a huge earthquake shakes the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. What Storm, What Thunder is a novel that follows 10 survivors as they grapple with the permanent life-altering effects of the earthquake and shows the tenacity of the human spirit.
Myriam J. A. Chancy is the author of four novels and four books of literary criticism. Her novel The Loneliness of Angels won the Guyana Prize for Literature Caribbean Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize in Carribbean Literature for fiction. Chancy was raised in Haiti and Canada and now resides in the U.S.
Named after a local word meaning "soaked through" or "weighed down," Satched is a poetry collection that explores intergenerational trauma, ecological grief and late-stage capitalism from the perspective of a woman of rural-remote, Northern, working class and mixed ancestry.
Megan Gail Coles is an author and playwright originally from Savage Cove, N.L. and currently living in Montreal, where she is a PhD candidate at Concordia University. She is also the author of the short story collection Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome and the novel Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, which was a finalist for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was defended by YouTuber Alayna Fender on Canada Reads 2020.
The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour is about the trials and tribulations of a touring dance group. Right before a 15-day tour through Europe, all the performers in The Prairie Chicken dance troupe come down with the flu. So, John Greyeyes, a retired cowboy who hasn't danced in 15 years, is thrust into leading a hastily assembled group of replacement dancers. As the gaggle of amateur dancers make its way from one stop to another, nothing goes as planned and the tour becomes a string of madcap adventures.
Dawn Dumont is a Plains Cree writer, comedian and actor who lives in Saskatoon. She is the author of Rose's Run, Glass Beads and Nobody Cries at Bingo, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Alberta Readers Choice Awards, Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Award and First Nation Communities READ Award.
What Strange Paradise is a novel that tells the story of a global refugee crisis through the eyes of a child. Nine-year-old Amir is the only survivor from a ship full of refugees coming to a small island nation. He ends up with a teenage girl named Vanna, who lives on the island. Even though they don't share a common language or culture, Vanna becomes determined to keep Amir safe. What Strange Paradise tells both their stories and how they each reached this moment, while asking the questions, "How did we get here?" and "What are we going to do about it?"
El Akkad is on the judging panel for the 2022 CBC Short Story Prize.
In Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber's Library, readers will discover brilliant new works of made-up literature, such as Don't Talk To Me For Too Long, You'll Fall In Love and I Liked Me, But Then I Did What I Did. The Winnipeg artists have been painting imagined books, with inscrutably funny, existential titles, as part of a series that's been on-going since 2009.
Dumontier and Farber are founding members of the art collective The Royal Art Lodge. Their work has been exhibited in galleries throughout Canada and internationally. Their previous books include Constructive Abandonment and Animals With Sharpies.
In Swimming Back to Trout River, Junie is a 10-year-old living in a village in China with her grandparents. Her parents left for America several years before. Her father has written her a letter saying that he will come back to get her before she turns 12. But Junie doesn't want to go and she doesn't know how much her parents have changed. They have broken up, and are dealing with trauma from their past. But Junie's father is determined to make things right, and make sure Junie's future is brighter than his ever was.
Linda Rui Feng is an academic and writer, who is currently a professor of Chinese cultural history at the University of Toronto. Swimming Back to Trout River is her first novel.
In Manikanetish, a young Innu woman, Yammie, returns to her home in the Uashat nation on Quebec's North Shore after 15 years of exile. She plans to teach language and drama at the local school, but finds a community steeped in despair. When she accepts a position directing the school play, she sees an opportunity for her students to take charge of themselves.
Naomi Fontaine is a member of the Innu Nation of Uashat. Her debut novel, Kuessipan, was made into a film that was featured at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. The French-language edition of Manikanetish was a finalist for a Governor General's Literary Award and Radio Canada's Combat des livres 2019.
In 1992, Brian Francis, a 21-year-old university student, placed a personal ad in a local newspaper. He was still in the closet and looking for love. He received 25 responses, but only responded to half of them. There were 13 letters that went unanswered and spent years forgotten in a cardboard box. Now, almost three decades later, he has written replies to those letters. Missed Connections uses these letters as a starting point to reflect on everything that has changed for him as a gay man, exploring body image, aging, desire, the price of secrecy and the courage it takes to be unapologetically yourself.
Missed Connections was inspired by Francis's play, Box 4901.
with/holding is a collection of genre-blurring poems that examines the representation and reproduction of Blackness across communication media and popular culture. Drawing on icons from past and present, this collection imagines Black voices moving freely across time and space.
Chantal Gibson is a writer, artist and educator based in Vancouver. Her visual art has been exhibited at the ROM and galleries across Canada. Her debut poetry collection, How She Read, was a finalist for the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize. Gibson was also on the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize longlist for her poem Three Body Problem.
Permanent Astonishment is a memoir by playwright, composer and pianist Tomson Highway. The Cree artist was born the 11th of 12 children in a nomadic caribou-hunting family. Surrounded by his family's love and the vast landscape of his home, Highway spent an idyllic childhood in the remote reaches of northern Manitoba. He recounts his early life, including his years in residential school, in this memoir about family, Cree life and northern adventures.
Highway is a novelist, children's author, playwright and musician. He is a member of the Barren Lands First Nation. His work includes Canadian theatre classics The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, the novel Kiss of the Fur Queen and children's novels Caribou Song, Dragon Fly Kites and Fox on the Ice.
The Mystery of Right and Wrong is a novel about an aspiring writer and Newfoundlander named Wade Jackson. At the university library, Wade meets and falls in love with a South African woman named Rachel van Hout. Wade discovers that Rachel is one of four daughters, each a wounded soul in their own way. The novel, inspired by true events in the author's family, grapples with sexual abuse, male violence and madness.
Johnston is a writer from Newfoundland. His novels include The Divine Ryans, A World Elsewhere, The Custodian of Paradise, The Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. His 1999 memoir, Baltimore's Mansion, won him the RBC Taylor Prize. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a Canada Reads 2003 finalist, when it was defended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In the YA novel Walking in Two Worlds, a shy Indigenous teen girl named Bugz finds comfort and belonging through multiplayer video games and virtual worlds. When a teen boy named Feng moves to the rez where Bugz lives, the two discover they have a lot in common, both in real life and online. Their virtual adventures draw them closer — but events in the real world, including family challenges and community trauma, threaten to harm the friendship the two have built.
Wab Kinew is the leader of Manitoba's New Democratic Party. Prior to his career in politics, he was a hip-hop musician and broadcaster. He was the winning panellist on Canada Reads 2014 and hosted the show in 2015.
Kinew is the author of two books: The Reason You Walk, a memoir about mending his relationship with his father before his death, and Go Show the World, a children's picture book about Indigenous heroes throughout history. Go Show the World was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustrated books. Kinew lives in Winnipeg.
Borders is based on a short story written by Thomas King in 1993, and was adapted as a graphic novel by illustrator Natasha Donovan. It's about a boy and his mother who try to take a road trip from Alberta to Salt Lake City. When they reach the American-Canadian border, they identify as Blackfoot — causing problems and putting the pair in limbo between Canada and America. What unfolds is a powerful story about justice, identity and belonging.
King is an influential Canadian American writer of Cherokee and Greek ancestry. His bestselling books include Truth & Bright Water, The Inconvenient Indian and many more. His novel Indians on Vacation won the 2021 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.
Donovan is a Métis illustrator originally from Vancouver. She has illustrated several graphic novels, including the Surviving the City series by Tasha Spillet and Brett Huson's animal series, which includes The Sockeye Mother, The Grizzly Mother and The Eagle Mother. She also illustrated the cover for The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills and her work appears in the anthology This Place: 150 Years Retold.
In the short story collection Glorious Frazzled Beings, human and more-than-human worlds come together in places we call home. Among other tales, a ghost tends to the family garden, a shape-shifting mother deals with the complexities of love when one son is born with beautiful fox ears and another is not and a daughter tries to make sense of her dating profile after her mom dies.
Angélique Lalonde is a B.C. writer whose work has been featured in PRISM International, the Journey Prize Anthology, Room and the Malahat Review, among other publications. She received the 2019 Writers' Trust Journey Prize and was nominated for a National Magazine Award. She was awarded an emerging writer's residency at the Banff Centre. She lives in Northern B.C. and holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Victoria.
This is How I Disappear offers a glimpse into the ways milennials cope with mental health struggles. Clara's at a breaking point. She has writer's block, her friends ask a lot without giving much, her psychologist is useless and she is burned out from work. The book is a portrait of a young woman wrestling with psychological stress and the trauma following sexual assault.
Mirion Malle is a French cartoonist and illustrator who lives in Montreal. She has published three books. The League of Super Feminists is her first book translated into English and it was nominated for the 2020 Prix Jeunesse at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.
In Velvet Was The Night, it's the 1970s in Mexico City and Maite is a secretary who lives to read the latest issue of Secret Romance. She escapes into stories of passion and danger, ignoring the student protests and political unrest that consume the city. When her next-door neighbour, Leonora, a beautiful art student, disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite searches for her, uncovering Leonora's secret life of student radicals and dissidents. Eccentric criminal Elvis, at the request of his boss, is also looking for Leonora. As Maite and Elvis come closer to finding out the truth behind Leonora's disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Canadian writer, who was born and raised in Mexico. She's the author of novels Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Signal to Noise, Certain Dark Things and The Beautiful Ones. She has previously won the Goodreads Readers Choice Award and the Copper Cylinder Award.
The Son of the House is the story of two Nigerian women, the housemaid Nwabulu and the wealthy Julie. The two live very different lives, but when both are kidnapped and forced to spend days together in a dark, tiny room, Nwabulu and Julie keep hope alive by sharing stories and discovering common ground.
- Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia's debut novel The Son of the House is a story about gender, trauma & patriarchy
Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a lawyer, academic and writer who divides her time between Lagos and Halifax. The Son of the House is her first novel. It won the SprinNG Women Authors Prize in 2020.
The Book of Form and Emptiness is about a young boy dealing with the aftermath of his father's death. A year after his musician father dies, 13-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices in the random household objects around him. Some are pleasant, while others are angry and full of pain. When his mother starts hoarding things, the voices grow more intense. To keep the voices from following him everywhere, he seeks refuge in a public library, where objects are well-behaved. Oh meets mesmerizing new faces, and he discovers his own book, who narrates his life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. She is the author of My Year of Meats, All Over Creation and A Tale for the Time Being, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Ozeki teaches creative writing at Smith College.
A Dream of a Woman is a collection of short stories revolving around transgender women who are looking for stable, adult lives. Taking place in Prairie high-rises and New York warehouses, during freezing Canadian winters and drizzly Oregon days, these stories explore partnership, sex, addiction, romance, groundedness and love.
Plett is a Windsor-based writer who was born in Manitoba and has lived in Oregon and New York. Her novel Little Fish won the Lambda Literary Award, Amazon First Novel Award and the Firecracker Award for Fiction. Her first collection of short stories, A Safe Girl to Love, was published in 2014.
The Bones of Ruin is the latest fantasy YA novel by Sarah Raughley. It's a tale set in 1880s London, featuring an immortal African tightrope walker named Iris who's caught up in a secret society's deadly gladiatorial tournament. Iris must learn more about her past, her identity and her power in order to survive her circumstances. But when she learns of a potentially world-ending threat, Iris needs to decide if learning her identity is worth the cost involved.
Raughley is a fantasy novelist from Southern Ontario. Her YA Effigies series, which includes Fate of Flames, Siege of Shadows and Legacy of Light, drops readers into a world where four young women are imbued with the powers of the four elements — fire, water, air and earth — and tasked with protecting the world from the evil Phantoms.
In the novel The Listeners, Claire Devon is one of a disparate group of people who can hear a low hum. No one in her house can hear it, and this sound has no obvious source or medical cause, but it starts upsetting the balance of Claire's life. She strikes up a friendship with one of her students who can also hear the hum. Feeling more and more isolated from their families and colleagues, they join a neighbourhood self-help group of people who can also hear the hum, which gradually transforms into something much more extreme, with far-reaching and devastating consequences.
Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, filmmaker, author and theatre director. He has twice won the Governor General's Literary Award for drama: in 2014 for Age of Minority and in 2018 for Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom. He is also the author of the novel Liminal.
Life in the City of Dirty Water is a memoir by Cree activist Clayton Thomas-Muller. It covers his entire life: from playing with toy planes as a way to escape the intergenerational pain of Canada's residential school system to spending time in juvenile detention and later becoming an activist in the fight against colonial racism and violence. Along this rocky road, Thomas-Muller remains tied to his Cree heritage and spirituality.
Thomas-Muller is a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, located in Northern Manitoba. He's campaigned on behalf of Indigenous peoples around the world for more than 20 years, working with numerous organizations. Life in the City of Dirty Water is his first book.
Em is about a young boy left to live in the streets by his father, an American soldier, during the Vietnam war. He finds a finds a baby abandoned in Saigon. The novel takes inspiration from historical events to sift through the layers of pain and trauma — revealing the invincibility of the human spirit.
Born in Saigon, Kim Thúy left Vietnam in a boat at 10 years old and settled with her family in Quebec. Her other novels include Vi, Man and Ru, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2002. Ru also won Canada Reads 2015, when it was championed by Cameron Bailey. Her books have been translated into 29 languages and are available in 40 countries and territories.
Sheila Fischman is the translator of over 150 works of Quebec contemporary novels from French to English. She is a member of the Order of Canada and a chevalier of the Ordre national du Québec.
In Fight Night, nine-year-old Swiv lives in Toronto with her pregnant mother, who is raising Swiv while caring for her own elderly mother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma gives Swiv the task of writing to her absent father about what life is like in the house during her mother's final trimester. In turn, Swiv tells Grandma, who knows what it costs to survive the world, to write a letter to her unborn grandchild.
Miriam Toews is the author of seven novels, including Women Talking, All My Puny Sorrows, A Complicated Kindness and The Flying Troutmans. She has won the Governor General's Award for fiction, the Libris Award for Fiction Book of the Year, the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Writers' Trust Engel Findley Award. A Complicated Kindness won Canada Reads in 2006, when it was defended by John K. Samson. Toews lives in Toronto.
August into Winter takes place in 1939 in a world on the brink of global war. After Constable Hotchkiss confronts the spoiled, narcissistic Ernie Sickert about the disturbing pranks in their small Prairie town, Ernie commits an act of unspeakable violence. What follows is a course of events that will change many lives forever.
Guy Vanderhaeghe is a novelist, short story writer and playwright. His debut short story collection, Man Descending, published in 1982, earned him the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and later Faber Prize in Britain. He would go on to win two more Governor General's Literary Awards: in 1996, for the novel The Englishman's Boy, and in 2015, for the short story collection Daddy Lenin and Other Stories.
The Strangers is afollow-up novel to Katherena Vermette's debut novel, The Break. Readers are brought into the dynamic world of the Stranger family, the shared pain of their past and the light that shines from the horizon. After spending time in foster homes, Cedar goes to live with her estranged father. Being separated from her mother, Elsie, and her sister, Phoenix, is painful, but she's hoping for a new chapter in life. The three women diverge, reconnect and fight to survive in a system that expects them to fail.
Vermette is a Red River Métis writer from Winnipeg. Her debut poetry collection, North End Love Songs, won the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry. Her first novel, The Break, won the Amazon First Novel Award, the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Prize and the McNally Robinson Book of the Year. Vermette's other works include the poetry collection river woman and the graphic novel series A Girl Called Echo.
Unreconciled is a memoir from Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and arts leader Jesse Wente. It weaves together Wente's personal story with a larger exploration of society and culture. He explores his family's history, including his grandmother's experience in residential school, and shares his own frequent incidents of racial profiling by police and argues that the notion of reconciliation between First Nations and Canada is not a realistic path forward.
Wente is an Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and arts leader. He's best known for the more than two decades he's spent as a columnist for CBC Radio's Metro Morning. He has also worked at the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2018, he was named the first executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office and in 2020, he was appointed chair of the Canada Council for the Arts.
In The Spectacular, it's 1997 and Missy's band is touring across America. Every night, she plays the song about her absent mother that made the band famous. As the only girl in the band, she wants to party just as hard as everyone else, but a forgotten party favour strands her at the border. Her mother, Carola, is just surfacing from a sex scandal when she sees Missy for the first time in 10 years, on the cover of a music magazine. Missy's grandmother, Ruth, plans on returning to the Turkish seaside, but is disrupted when Missy crashes at her house. Ruth decides it's time the women in her family try to understand each other again.
Zoe Whittall's three novels have won her a Lambda Literary Award, the Dayne Ogilvie Prize and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The Best Kind of People is currently being adapted for a limited series by Sarah Polley. Her other novels are Holding Still for as Long as Possible and Bottle Rocket Hearts. She has also written for Schitt's Creek and the Baroness Von Sketch Show.
In Disorientation, Ian Williams captures the impact of racial encounters on racialized people, especially when one's minding their own business. Sometimes, the consequences are only irritating, and other times, they are deadly. Driven by the police killings and street protests of 2020, Williams realized he could offer a Canadian perspective on race. A few of the subjects he explores include the moment a child realizes they're Black, the 10 characteristics of institutional whiteness and how friendship helps protect against racism and blame culture.
Williams is a poet, novelist and professor from Brampton, Ont., who is currently teaching at the University of British Columbia. His debut novel, Reproduction, won the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize. He is also the author of the poetry collection Personals, which was a finalist for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize.
Iron Widow is a YA fantasy novel featuring aliens, giant robots and a quest to battle evil. In the world of Huaxia, boys pair up with girls to operate transforming robots named Chrysalises, but the girls often die from the mental strain of it all. When a teen girl named Zetian takes on the mantle of an Iron Widow and is paired up with a male pilot named Li Shimin, the story becomes one of power, vengeance and gender equality.
Xiran Jay Zhao is a Vancouver-based science fiction and fantasy writer who is also training to become a biochemist. She is a first-generation Chinese immigrant, with an interest in Chinese history, cosplay and anime.
Letters to Amelia is a novel about loss and grief. To deal with the grief and heartache brought by her partner of seven years unexpectedly leaving, 30-year-old library tech Grace Porter is tasked with reading newly discovered letters that Amelia Earhart wrote to her lover. Porter understands more about Earhart while putting her own life back together. When Porter becomes pregnant, she starts writing her own letters to Earhart, and ends up going on a pilgrimage of her own.
Lindsay Zier-Vogel is a writer, arts educator and the creator of the Love Lettering Project. She holds a MA in creative writing from the University of Toronto.