Canada Reads

Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

Scarborough is a novel by Catherine Hernandez.

Championed by Malia Baker

Malia Baker is championing Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez. (CBC)

Malia Baker championed Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez on Canada Reads 2022.


Canada Reads took place March 28-31, 2022 The debates were hosted by Ali Hassan and broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC Gem and on CBC Books

Scarborough is a low-income, culturally diverse neighbourhood east of Toronto, the fourth largest city in North America; like many inner-city communities, it suffers under the weight of poverty, drugs, crime, and urban blight. Scarborough the novel employs a multitude of voices to tell the story of a tight-knit neighbourhood under fire: among them, Victor, a Black artist harassed by the police; Winsum, a West Indian restaurant owner struggling to keep it together; and Hina, a Muslim school worker who witnesses first-hand the impact of poverty on education.

And then there are the three kids who work to rise above a system that consistently fails them: Bing, a gay Filipino boy who lives under the shadow of his father's mental illness; Sylvie, Bing's best friend, a Native girl whose family struggles to find a permanent home to live in; and Laura, whose history of neglect by her mother is destined to repeat itself with her father.

Scarborough offers a raw yet empathetic glimpse into a troubled community that locates its dignity in unexpected places: a neighbourhood that refuses to be undone. (From Arsenal Pulp Press)

Catherine Hernandez is a Canadian writer, author and playwright. Her 2017 novel, Scarborough, was a shortlisted finalist for the 2017 Toronto Book Award, the 2018 Trillium Book Award, the 2018 Edmund White Award and was on the longlist for Canada Reads 2018Scarborough was also adapted to screen as a feature film and premiered at TIFF in 2021.

From the book

They caught each other's eyes. Both blonde. Both cold. One inside, one outside. One young, the other younger. They waved.

When Laura was living with her mother in a low-rise apartment complex near Kennedy and Eglinton, her two major jobs were to reach for things and to guard the door.

Jessica was out of the house for prolonged periods of time. Sun rising and setting. Rising and setting. All silence. In this silence, Laura made tasks for herself, like drooling into a puddle at the edge of the carpet to see how much drool it would take to make an ocean. Sometimes she played swimming in the bathtub, where she peed to make the water yellow. Sometimes she watched mould grow along loaves of old bread, waiting for it to turn into a forest.

She did not know how to read. So when pieces of paper were slipped underneath the door, she did not know that they were notices from the landlord. She took a pair of shears from the kitchen and began to cut these yellow notices into the shape of a mother duck. The shavings became a nest. Laura imagined it was her duck farm and placed the mama duck on the window ledge to watch it grow and feed on anything Laura could find, be it cotton swabs or hairpins.

"Mama Duck said 'quack, quack, quack, quack,' but none of her five little ducklings came back ..." Laura sang while cutting five eggs out of more yellow notices slipped under the door. She placed them in the shredded paper nest under their two-dimensional mama.

From Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez ©2017. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press. 

Why Catherine Hernandez wrote Scarborough

"I had written short stories about Scarborough before, but I didn't quite get the fiction thing. I could read it out loud and it would be very entertaining, but it was living in theatrical purgatory. The words weren't strung together in a way where someone could read it by themselves and it would stand on its own. It demanded that I perform it because I was relying on humour and timing.

"I finally realized that in theatre you have your lighting designer, your sound designer, your director, your actors. As a theatre practitioner, when you're writing a script, your ego has to sit back and allow the actor to interpret it and allow the director to push it in the right direction.

"You have to allow your team to do the work. That's not the case as an author. As an author, you have to do everything. That was something I had to get used to. It was very empowering but very strange at the same time."

Read her interview with CBC Books

The Canada Reads 2022 contenders

Interviews with Catherine Hernandez

Why I Write: Catherine Hernandez

5 years ago
Duration 3:23
In this CBC Books video series, Catherine Hernandez explains why today’s Canadian writers need to be aware of anti-oppression and decolonization in order to be successful.
Catherine Hernandez's second novel, Crosshairs, takes place in a chilling dystopian future where a fascist regime seeks to eliminate all those deemed "Other."
Canadian author Catherine Hernandez joined Tom Power to talk about bringing her debut novel, Scarborough, to the big screen. She explained why centering the story around a community of low-income families from different racial and ethnic backgrounds was so important to her.

‘Scarborough’ film to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival

2 years ago
Duration 9:01
‘Scarborough’ is based on a book by Catherine Hernandez. It's an unvarnished look into the lives of three children growing up around poverty, abuse and homelessness. Our Toronto’s host Marivel Taruc spoke with the writer, director, and the three young actors.

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