The best books of 2019
2019 was a great year for books! Here are CBC Books's favourite books of the year.
Our top pick: Reproduction by Ian Williams
When Felicia and her teenage son Army move into a basement apartment, they bond with the house's owner and his two children. But strange gifts from Army's wealthy, absent father begin to arrive at their doorstep, inviting new tensions into the makeshift family's lives.
Our top pick: A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott
Alicia Elliott explores the systemic oppression faced by Indigenous peoples across Canada through the lens of her own experiences as a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground examines how colonial violence, including the loss of language, seeps into the present day lives of Indigenous people, often in the form of mental illness.
Elliott is a Tuscarora writer living in Brantford, Ont. She was chosen by Tanya Talaga as the recipient for the 2018 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award. CBC Books named Elliott a writer to watch in 2019.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me is a YA graphic novel about a teenage girl named Freddy who can't seem to quit her girlfriend, the popular, enigmatic Laura Dean. Though they keep breaking up and getting back together, Freddy frets over whether to forgive Laura's many indiscretions — all the while taking her friendships for granted.
Valero-O'Connell is an American illustrator and cartoonist.
Our top pick: NDN Coping Mechanisms by Billy-Ray Belcourt
In NDN Coping Mechanisms, Billy-Ray Belcourt uses poetry, prose and textual art to explore how Indigenous and queer communities and identities are left out of mainstream media. The work has two parts — the first explores everyday life and the second explores influential texts such as Treaty 8.
Belcourt is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He won the Griffin Poetry Prize for his first poetry collection, This Wound is a World. CBC Books named Belcourt a writer to watch in 2018.
Our top pick: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys is based on a real reform school in Florida that operated for over a century. It follows a young black boy named Elwood Curtis who is sent to live at a juvenile reformatory after an innocent mistake. The Nickel Academy bills itself as a place of "physical, intellectual and moral training," but in reality it is a place where young boys are subject to physical and sexual abuse.
Colson Whitehead is a celebrated American writer whose previous book, The Underground Railroad, won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Carnegie Medal for fiction and many other honours. The Nickel Boys won the $50,000 Kirkus Prize, an American prize that recognizes the best books of the year.
Our top pick: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado examines her story of domestic abuse in her memoir In the Dream House. She uses narrative tropes like haunted houses and bildungsroman to understand the volatile progression of her relationship. Machado also reflects on the stereotype of utopian lesbian relationships, exploring the history of abuse in queer relationships.
- Carmen Maria Machado tackles queer Disney villains and surviving abuse in her memoir, In the Dream House
Machado is a writer from Philadelphia. She won the National Book Critics Circle's John Leonard Prize for her short story collection Her Body and Other Parties.
Our top pick: Stand on the Sky by Erin Bow
Stand on the Sky is about a young girl who goes against her communiy's traditions in order to follow her dreams. In Aisulu's nomadic community, only men have traditionally learned to train eagles. But when her parents take her brother to a distant hospital, Aisulu secretly nurtures an orphaned baby eagle. Stand on the Sky won the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.
Stand on the Sky is for readers ages 9 to 12.
Our top pick: Birdsong by Julie Flett
In Birdsong, a lonely girl becomes friends with her new neighbour, an elderly woman. Together, they watch the seasons change, but as they both grow older, the young girl learns to cope with her friend's declining health. Birdsong was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration.
Birdsong is for readers aged 5-8.
Julie Flett has illustrated several picture books including Little You, My Heart Fills with Happiness and We Sang You Home. She won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — illustration for When We Were Alone, which was written by David A. Robertson.