Catherine Hernandez's novel The Story of Us is about 'love and the power of family' — read an excerpt now
The Story of Us will be published on Feb. 28, 2023
Catherine Hernandez is a Canadian writer, author and playwright. She is the author of several books, including the novels Scarborough and Crosshairs and the children's books I Promise, M is for Mustache and Where Do Your Feelings Live?. She is also the creator and star of the Audible Original sketch comedy podcast Imminent Disaster.
The Story of Us is the story of Mary Grace Concepcion, a Filipino worker who has left her family behind to build a new life in Canada. She secures employment as a personal support worker in Toronto, caring for Liz, an elderly woman living in a bungalow in Scarborough who is living with dementia. An unlikely relationship blossoms between the two, as Mary Grace works to bring her husband to Canada and learns more about Liz's surprising past. The Story of Us is narrated by Mary Grace's infant daughter, adding a unique twist to this heartfelt story.
"The Story of Us was one of two novels I wrote during lockdown and I wanted it to feel like a warm hug to all my readers. Despite how bleak the future seems, I want people to read the last pages of the book believing in love and the power of family," Hernandez told CBC Books via an emailed statement.
Despite how bleak the future seems, I want people to read the last pages of the book believing in love and the power of family.- Catherine Hernandez
The Story of Us will be published on Feb. 28, 2023.
Read an excerpt from The Story of Us below.
Hello? Hi. Liz? Can you hear me? Can you see me if you look into my eyes? See the spirit in this infant body? I know you're distracted by my sweet smell and the plump of my cheeks. If I wasn't swaddled this tightly I would try and wave. Get your attention. Or... maybe that would make things worse. Then you might be distracted by my advanced motor skills. Ugh! I want to sigh in frustration, but even sighing has made you all coo at me before, and really, what I need from you is your focus. You, more than anyone.
What I'm saying isn't out of the blue. I think you've known it all along, but too many have pushed the idea to the fringes of folklore and myth. All that nonsense about babies and past lives.
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Maybe, while doting over the miniature edges of my fingernails, you caught a glimpse of me, the true me, the past me. Maybe you watched me sleep in my first 24 hours and you wondered at my expressions, the frowns, the smiles, the knitting brow, wondered how I could be anxious when surely I had never experienced anything but my mother's heartbeat and the warmth of her womb. Maybe you had a sense there was more that I knew. But as days pass, you've noticed this less. That is why I need you to listen. The former me, the real me, is fading by the second and there are things I remember, at this very moment and never will again, that I need to share with you.
Yes, this is a lot to take in. But we're in a sweet spot, you and me. I'm leaving this in-between world, once housed by the shell of my mother and her body memories, and you...you are leaving your memories behind too. That's why my mother is here taking care of you. I know you're leaving the world of order for one that rarely makes any sense at all and my mother's purpose in your life is to keep you safe during this transition.
I did mention limited time. I should be more clear. I'm talking days, not years, okay? And then there's the interruptions of diaper changes, bothersome visitors, bath time and my own hunger — not to mention all that burping business — so we should get started.
The former me, the real me, is fading by the second and there are things I remember, at this very moment and never will again, that I need to share with you.
I think it's best we map out the body of my mother first. To you, it may seem pretty simple. Like... there's her head. Those are her arms, her legs. Whatever. But in my in-between world, the map is more like this:
The back of her skull. This is what touched the tailbone of her mother, my Lola, with every contraction, during a lengthy and difficult birth at the humble district hospital. The nurse encouraged Lola to pace the hallways. She did hip circles. She squatted over the toilet. Nothing was working. Ma was showing all the signs of being a posterior-facing baby. Head down but facing the wrong way. What finally helped the labour progress was the nurse standing Lola upright and presenting her with a stepping stool.
"Put your leg here. Here. On top. The other leg back in a lunge. Yes. Okay. When you feel the contraction, I want you to lean forward for me." Lola moaned in pain at the nurse's suggestion. "Sigena. I know it will be painful, but it's this or surgery." She was right. The lunges helped to contort the shape of Lola's uterus, allowing my mother to corkscrew into position and crown. No surgery needed.
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If you're wondering how I know all of this, let me explain. I am small, but I have lived an enormous life well before this year of my birth, 2001. In fact, I have lived for years as a seed in the ovaries of my mother while my mother gestated in the body of my Lola Daning. I was a dream of a dream back then, a nesting doll of possibility. Before I had my own organs, I listened to the simultaneous beating of my grandmother's heart (bass heavy, slow, sure) and my mother's heart (quick, excited) in an odd mismatch of a song. When my mother emerged into the cold air of the world, the year was 1972 in San Marcelino, in the province of Zambales, Philippines. The nurse placed my tightly wrapped mother into the arms of Lola Daning and Lola said, "Happy birthday, Mary Grace."
Mary Grace, I thought to myself back then. I like that. Of course, since she was Filipina, this name was rarely used unless there was paperwork to be filled out. She was destined to be called a combination of Mare, Gracey and, more commonly, MG.
Excerpted from The Story of Us by Catherine Hernandez. Copyright ©2022 Catherine Hernandez. Published by HarperCollins Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.