Debut novelist Melanie Mah wins Trillium Book Award for The Sweetest One

The annual $20,000 prize celebrates excellence in writing by Ontario authors.
Melanie Mah is the author of the novel The Sweetest One. (Trillium Book Awards/Cormorant Books)

Debut novelist Melanie Mah has won the 2017 Trillium Book Award for The Sweetest One. The $20,000 prize annually recognizes excellence in writing by authors in Ontario.

Originally from Rocky Mountain House, Alta., Mah now lives in Toronto.

The Sweetest One is set in rural Alberta and follows Chrysler Wong, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood who is convinced her family is cursed. Her three elder siblings died after turning 18 and leaving town. A fourth has seemingly disappeared.

"With lines and imagery that are as unique as they are beautiful, Melanie Mah has crafted a story of an under-told Canadian experience with deft, humour and so much grit," said the jury, composed of Cherie Dimaline, James Grainger and Soraya Peerbaye, in a press release.

"The Sweetest One introduces us to the Wongs, a tragic Chinese-Canadian family in small town Alberta layered with isolation, anxiety, language and loss. Each member, even as they become absent, is a presence so huge you cannot help but love them. Mah's work is exciting and exacting and precisely what was missing from CanLit."

Other finalists for the award include André Alexis for The Hidden Keys, Kamal Al-Solaylee for Brown, Danila Botha for For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I've Known, Leesa Dean for Waiting for the Cyclone and Throaty Wipes by Susan Holbrook.

Meaghan Strimas' Yes or Nope won the $10,000 Trillium Book Award for poetry.

"In vignettes that show characters in situation of disenchantment, Strimas refuses the safety of tenderness; instead she finds visceral imagery, a swift and sharp turn of phrase and unexpected humour," said the jury in a press release.

"These poems are a kind of sudden, bitter fiction, making poetry out of lives and moments from which others would rather look away."

The 2016 prizes were won by Kevin Hardcastle for Debris and Peerbaye in the poetry category for Tell.