Books·First Look

katherena vermette's novel The Circle is about healing, justice and belonging — read an excerpt now

Return to the world of The Break and The Strangers with katherena vermette's latest novel The Circle.

The Circle is a follow-up to vermette's bestselling novels The Break and The Strangers

A portrait of an Indigenous woman with dark hair looking into the camera.
katherena vermette is an award-winning author from Winnipeg. (Vanda Fleury)

katherena vermette is a Métis writer from Winnipeg. Her books include the poetry collections North End Love Songs and river woman, the novel The Break and the four-book graphic novel series A Girl Called EchoNorth End Love Songs won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry. The Break was a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. It was defended by Candy Palmater on Canada Reads 2017. 

The Strangers, the follow-up to The Break was published in 2021. It follows one family: sisters Cedar and Phoenix and their mother Elsie. After a stint in foster care, Cedar is now living with her father, who she barely knows. Phoenix is serving time in a youth detention centre, while Elsie is struggling with her addictions but is determined to turn her life around and reunite with her daughters.

The Strangers won the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

A brown book cover made up of individual geometric shapes and the words The Circle by katherena vermette written on it.

Now, vermette is back with The Circle, the third and final book set in this world and featuring some of the same characters. With Phoenix set for release from prison for the assault she committed in The Break, the news is sending ripples through the community. Her sister Cedar has been both dreading and longing for her return, while M, the girl Phoenix assaulted is triggered by the news. 

When Phoenix goes missing shortly after her release, past grievances, revenge plots and accusations begin swirling — and the community and the people who live there all search for healing in their own ways.

vermette told CBC Books about the inspiration behind The Circle

"The Circle is the third of three, but you don't need to know The Break or The Strangers to know this one."

"It opens in a sudden moment — I always do that — and includes many different voices — I do that a lot, too. I love polyphonic, character-driven books with self-contained chapters, and I really dove into all of that with this one," vermette said via email.

"It's meant to, in a way, mirror a Restorative Justice Circle — a circle where everyone comes together to talk about how a certain event, namely a crime or injustice, has affected their lives, but in the usual way of my characters, they go about it in seemingly roundabout kind of ways. They are all still talking about the same thing though, only in different, often unwieldy, hopefully healing, always intentional ways." 

The Circle will be published on Sept. 5, 2023. You can read an excerpt below.

Cedar Sage Stranger

When I hang up, I want to cry.

I stand there a minute, phone in hand, middle of the long front hallway, and don't move. Can't move. Can't even think.

My thumb slips across the screen and my saver flashes on — me, Zig, Wynn and Izzy the day we moved into this big old house. I was so happy. Buzzed on that sparkling rosé we used to drink every weekend and half-stoned. Our housewarming, we called it, even though it was just us and a YouTube dance playlist.

So happy. Then. Now, I only feel dread.

It's all my own damn fault. Not like I didn't know this day was going to come. Not like I didn't have an actual countdown to the date. My sister told me so many times. Phoenix was counting the days 'til she got out, of course she was. She was looking forward to it as she should be. I used to look forward to her getting out, too. This is not fair on her. Not her fault. Not this anyway.

LISTEN | katherena vermette on the enduring appeal of The Break:
Katherena Vermette talks to Shelagh Rogers about The Break. The Break was the choice this spring for the virtual national book club, One E-read Canada.

I hear the creak of the second step as Wynn comes down the stairs. "Hey," she says and I almost jump. "You look like you seen a ghost." She laughs. I don't say anything so she adds, "You didn't see a ghost, did you?"

I try to laugh or scoff but it only comes out halfway, so I shake my head instead.

"Oh thank god. Phil was watching ghost vids last night. Those things creep me out. Especially since moving in this house." Wynn keeps talking as she crosses the kitchen and over her shoulder while she pulls the oat milk out of the fridge. "Come sit down, you're freaking me out."

I slide my phone in my pocket and go to my chair at the table. They're all mismatched wooden chairs we thrifted last fall then painted as our own. Mine is curved and round and yellow. Zig painted a red beaded flower motif across the top. "Michif are the flower beadwork people," she said with a smile. Her chair is dark purple, tall and lean with two rows painted like long beads across the seat. "I wanted it to look like wampum but it didn't quite turn out."

We sit around here for house meetings, all of us in a circle, and take turns to talk. Say our feelings and how things are for us. A check-in, Izzy calls it. "So tradish!" Ziggy said that first time, with a laugh, like she does. I smiled, like I do. Not really sure what's funny but wanted to seem like I knew.

"Wanna talk about it?"

I check myself. Sit straighter. I've always seen Wynn as a really self-assured kind of person. She seems so laid-back and only talks when she needs or wants to, not one of those people that have to fill up the space all the time. She told me last year she suffers from pretty serious anxiety and has been on and off meds since she was twelve. I was shocked. Would have never thought.

"Naw," I say slowly, quietly.

"Okay." I can tell she's looking at me but I don't look up. "Want some eggs?"


I pull my knees up in front of me and hug them close. Scrambled eggs are the only thing Wynn knows how to make but she makes them so good. She knows exactly how I like them.

What am I going to do?

Excerpted from The Circle by Katherena Vermette. Copyright © 2023 Katherena Vermette. Published by Hamish Hamilton Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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