Canada Reads

5 books to read if you loved Canada Reads contender From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

Finished reading the memoir From the Ashes and looking for your next book? Here are five Canadian options.
Jesse Thistle is the author of From the Ashes. (CBC)

Jesse Thistle is a Métis-Cree academic and an assistant professor in Métis Studies at York University in Toronto. His memoir, From the Ashes, details how his issues with abandonment and addiction led to homelessness, incarceration and his eventual redemption through higher education. The memoir is an exploration into the impact of prejudice and racism revealing a story about hope, resilience and a man who refused to give up.

From the Ashes was defended by George Canyon on Canada Reads 2020.

Finished reading From the Ashes and looking for your next book? Here are five Canadian options that explore similar themes.

Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is the author of the novel Scarborough, which won the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop Emerging Writers Award in 2015. (Yeemi Tang/Arsenal Pulp Press)

In her debut novel, Catherine Hernandez tells the multi-voiced story of a neighbourhood that refuses to fall apart in the face of poverty and crime. Weaving together the stories of three children growing up in difficult circumstances with the stories of three adults who are doing their best to help them out, Scarborough is a vibrant and emotional read.

Both Scarborough and From the Ashes tell stories of difficult childhoods, from abandonment to poverty, and explore the ways in which systems can fail vulnerable and marginalized communities. 

When Terese Marie Mailhot published her debut memoir, Heart Berries, she couldn't have predicted the response. It was met with rave reviews, and quickly became a New York Times bestseller.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

The book cover is divided into four unequally sized boxes, two boxes wide and two on top. The bottom right box is yellow with the image of six black silhouetted people running down a hill. They are running after one person who is silhouetted to the left in the red box. In the top right, it's a black-and-white image of footsteps in sand. The top left image is of coniferous trees in a line with snow on the ground. That image is coloured a slight blue.
Indian Horse was defended by Carol Huynh on Canada Reads 2013. (Douglas & McIntyre)

When Saul Indian Horse finds himself the reluctant resident of an alcohol treatment centre, he is forced to examine his life — from being separated from his family and sent off to residential school to finding comfort in playing hockey. Indian Horse offers an unflinching portrayal of the harsh reality of life in 1960s Canada, where racism and the alienating effects of cultural displacement damage Saul's spirit. 

Saul's life parallels Thistle's memoir, from his issues with addiction to dealing with the effects of intergenerational trauma as an Indigenous man. Both these stories explore the power of resilience in the face of extreme loss and pain. 

Yasuko Thanh talks to Shelagh Rogers about her memoir, on Mistakes to Run With.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

Terese Marie Mailhot is a writer from Seabird Island, B.C. (Penguin Random House Canada/Isiah Mailhot)

Terese Marie Mailhot traces her life story from a dysfunctional upbringing on Seabird Island in B.C., with an activist mother and abusive father, to her acceptance into the Masters of Fine Art program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. Heart Berries was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Both Mailhot and Thistle's memoirs deal with challenging upbringings and the redemptive power of love. These memoirs are as much about family as they are about an individual's ability to transform and rebuild their life. 

Mistakes to Run With by Yasuko Thanh

Mistakes to Run With is a memoir by Yasuko Thanh. (Don Denton, Hamish Hamilton)

Yasuko Thanh opens up about her tumultuous life in Mistakes to Run With, from rebelling against her evangelical parents and living on the streets of Vancouver to becoming a sex worker, falling in love and writing an award-winning novel. Despite her success, Thanh still struggles with her past.

Like Thistle, Thanh used writing as a way to help her process her troubled childhood and experiences living on the streets. Both Mistakes to Run With and From the Ashes showcase the healing power of writing and its ability to help manage past trauma. 

Halfbreed by Maria Campbell

A black book cover featuring a photo of a woman whose face is partially hidden by shadows.
Maria Campbell discusses the re-release of her memoir Halfbreed. (Sheena Goodyear/CBC, Penguin Random House Canada )

Maria Campbell's memoir Half-Breed documents the brutal realities of poverty, pain and the degradation she experienced as a Métis woman growing up in Canada's prairies. Drug addiction and alcoholism kept her behind hospital doors and prison walls. When Campbell began to take pride in her Métis heritage, she found new purpose in life.

Besides being called the greatest Indigenous writer of all time by Thistle himself, Campbell's memoir is a seminal work that introduced Canadians to the Métis experience. Written in 1973, Half-Breed still resonates today and parallels the stories and themes in Thistle's memoir From the Ashes.


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