The best books of 2019

2019 was a great year for books! Here are CBC Books's top titles in fiction nonfiction, poetry, kids and more!

2019 was a great year for books! Here are CBC Books's favourite books of the year.

Canadian fiction

Ian Williams is the author of Reproduction. (Sinisa Jolic, CBC)

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. 

Reproduction is Ian Williams's debut novel, following his Griffin Poetry Prize-nominated poetry collection Personals and award-winning short fiction collection Not Anyone's Anything.

It won the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was nominated for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

Ian Williams talks to Shelagh Rogers about his Giller nominated novel, Reproduction.

Canadian nonfiction

Alicia Elliott is the author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. (Doubleday Canada, Ayelet Tsabari)

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.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground was on the shortlist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

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.

Carmen Maria Machado takes a new approach to memoir with her latest book, In the Dream House. She details her personal experiences of domestic abuse at the hands of another woman and weaves in pop culture references like her favourite queer Disney villains, as well as historical research and splashes of humour.

Canadian comics

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is a graphic novel written by Mariko Tamaki and drawn by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell. (House of Anansi Press, Shawnee Custalow)

Our top pick: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell

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.

Mariko Tamaki is an award-winning Canadian comics writer, contributing to Marvel and DC Comics. She's based in California. Her other books include Skim(you) Set Me On Fire and This One Summer.

Valero-O'Connell is an American illustrator and cartoonist. 

Kitchener-Waterloo author Erin Bow talks about winning what she describes as THE Canadian book award for her middle grade novel Stand on the Sky.

Canadian poetry

NDN Coping Mechanisms is a poetry collection by Billy-Ray Belcourt. (House of Anansi Press)

Our top pick: NDN Coping Mechanisms by Billy-Ray Belcourt

In NDN Coping MechanismsBilly-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 WorldCBC Books named Belcourt a writer to watch in 2018.

International fiction

Colson Whitehead's latest book is The Nickel Boys (Penguin Random House, Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

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 Railroadwon 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. 

International nonfiction

In the Dream House is a memoir by Carmen Maria Machado. (Strange Light, Art Streiber)

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 HouseShe 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.

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.

Canadian YA & middle-grade books

Stand on the Sky is a YA fantasy novel by Erin Bow. (Studio J, Scholastic)

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.

Erin Bow is a poet and children's book writer from Kitchener, Ont. Her books for young readers include Plain Kate and The Scorpion Rules.

Canadian picture books

Birdsong is a picture book by Julie Flett. (Greystone Books, Canadian Press/Patrick Doyle)

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 YouMy 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.