Books·First Look

Janice Lynn Mather's Uncertain Kin is a new short story collection about belonging — read an excerpt now

The Governor General's Literary Award–finalist and author of YA novels Learning to Breathe and Facing the Sun is making her adult literary debut with Uncertain Kin, available on April 19, 2022.

See the cover and read an excerpt! Uncertain Kin will be available on April 19, 2022.

Janice Lynn Mather is a Vancouver-based author of Bahamian heritage. (Simon & Schuster)

Uncertain Kin is the latest book from acclaimed Canadian author Janice Lynn Mather.  

Set against the backdrop of The Bahamas, Uncertain Kin is a short story collection about women and girls searching for identity and belonging during moments of profound upheaval.

The collection of 18 stories feature themes of kinship, grief, longing, betrayal, coming of age and what it means to be a woman.

Mather is a Vancouver-based novelist and short story writer of Bahamian heritage who was named by CBC Books as a writer to watch. Her work often examines themes of belonging, identity and coming-of-age.

Her books include the YA novel Learning to Breathe, which was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text and Facing the Sun, a YA novel which won the 2021 Amy Mathers Teen Book Award and was named one of the best Canadian YA and middle-grade books of 2020 by CBC Books.

Uncertain Kin marks Mather's adult literary debut. 

"Each story explores a tenuous moment— betrayal, discovery, loss— with recurring characters and shifting perspectives. We meet girls and women facing personal instabilities in a world where reality is given to bend. I set out to investigate the complexities of shared experiences, how they change us, and how our reactions influence others," Mather said to CBC Books

"I want readers to find familiarity, and to recognize the richness and delicacy of human connections and how they shape the people we become."

Uncertain Kin will be available on April 19, 2022.

You can read an excerpt from Malcolm's Shoe, a short story from Uncertain Kin, below.

They came in the middle of the night, fists on the wooden front door, beating till it rattled in its frame. Mummy crawled into my room like a baby, pulled me out of the bed onto the floor, her hand clapped over my mouth, though I didn't need it, no way was I going to scream, to speak, to even gasp. Shoved me under the bed, the tiles cold. Dusty down there and hard to breathe. She rolled her body, a barrier between me and whatever might come. The fists getting louder. Was it two, three guys, seven?

Feet rustling through the grass below my window, voices calling, "Hey, come out here, boy, we know you in there, you better bring your ass out here, better hurry up." From Malcolm's room, nothing. I wondered if Mummy had hidden him someplace, shoved him under his own bed, crumpled him into the closet, a pillow jammed in his mouth. Then his voice breaking loose from inside his room, curling out.

"What y'all want?"

"Boy, you know what we want. Where the thing?"

"I ain' know what y'all talkin' bout. Come out my mummy yard."

They came in the middle of the night, fists on the wooden front door, beating till it rattled in its frame.

Then the sound of something hard thudding against the window panes. "We ain' goin' nowhere. You come out here. Or you want us come in there?" There was a bang, a tremen­dous thud, like a body, a living body, a body tight with anger, throwing itself against the door. The house shook.

"Get out my yard. I callin' the police on you."

The door thudded again, heavier this time. I squeezed my eyes shut, struggling for air. Mummy's nails dug into my shoulder. A third thud. And then a crash, glass break­ing. I bit down on my hand to keep my scream in. Squeak of tennis shoes on tiles, down the hall, to the kitchen. Then the slow click of the locks on the kitchen door. The bolts drawn. They were expecting Malcolm at the front, wouldn't know he had made it to the back side of the house.

"Don't go out there!" Mummy shouted, throwing her voice after him.

And then they were upon him. Thick voices and pound­ing fists landing, shoes hammering the ground, and Malcolm's voice, twisted like a bedsheet pulled loose from a clothesline and wrapped strangely, wrapped wrong, around a tree branch. And Mummy's wailing long and loose, flap­ping free. Then it stopped. Footsteps pulling away, the voices hushed. The opening of car doors, engines starting, then drifting away. Mummy's wailing began to slow, the wind­storm that had caught it settling down until it lay limp.

My face was wet. I freed myself from my mother, crawled out the other side of the bed, jostling two old books, a lost toy out of my way. Mummy let out a last, shuddering cry that crashed through the room in waves. And then silence.

Mummy's wailing began to slow, the wind­storm that had caught it settling down until it lay limp.

I turned on every light I could to scare the fear away. The hallway light, shining into Malcolm's room, the bed unmade but nothing else in disarray, his boy smell, sweat and salt and stale socks and heavy cologne and a slight, almost hidden whiff of smoke, drifting out. The living room, everything in its proper place, the picture of Grammy on the wall next to Grampy's, even though they hadn't slept in the same bed in years, the carpets clean, the curtains still drawn tight against the night's dark. The dining room, chairs tucked in, table cleared of last night's dishes. And the front door still now in its frame, the chain on.

I turned on the kitchen light, yellow spilling over the cupboards, the fridge, the counter, tidy and neat. Malcolm's smell in here too, musky with sleep. And the back door, shut. I pulled it. It was locked.

My fingers shaking, I fumbled with the lock, its metal slick and cold. The door stuck, reluctant to give in. I pulled harder and it gave way with a creak.

My fingers shaking, I fumbled with the lock, its metal slick and cold. The door stuck, reluctant to give in.

The yard was lit in flickering white. This gave me com­fort. Nothing bad happens with the outside light on.

"Hey, Malcolm?" Barefoot, I stepped out, the concrete patio, the cold grass, the guava tree's leaves reaching down to brush my arm.


The grass was matted down. Here, there, splashed with red wet. No.

"Malcolm?" My voice came out tight, high.

I saw his shoe. I recognized it, a white and red sneaker, on its side in the grass, loosely laced, never tied. I turned it over. Size eleven. It was his.

And then a rustle from the back of the yard and I grabbed it, this part of Malcolm, and ran for the door, slammed and locked it behind me. Through the door, then, the small call of a bird, confused, crying dawn in the thick of night.

Excerpted from Uncertain Kin by Janice Lynn Mather. Copyright © 2022. Published by Doubleday Canada, an imprint of the publishing company Penguin Random House Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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