Books·Canadian

The Strangers

A novel by Katherena Vermette.

Katherena Vermette

Cedar has nearly forgotten what her family looks like. Phoenix has nearly forgotten what freedom feels like. And Elsie has nearly given up hope. Nearly.

After time spent in foster homes, Cedar goes to live with her estranged father. Although she grapples with the pain of being separated from her mother, Elsie, and sister, Phoenix, she's hoping for a new chapter in her life, only to find herself once again in a strange house surrounded by strangers. From a youth detention centre, Phoenix gives birth to a baby she'll never get to raise and tries to forgive herself for all the harm she's caused (while wondering if she even should). Elsie, struggling with addiction and determined to turn her life around, is buoyed by the idea of being reunited with her daughters and strives to be someone they can depend on, unlike her own distant mother. These are the Strangers, each haunted in her own way. Between flickering moments of warmth and support, the women diverge and reconnect, fighting to survive in a fractured system that pretends to offer success but expects them to fail. Facing the distinct blade of racism from those they trusted most, they urge one another to move through the darkness, all the while wondering if they'll ever emerge safely on the other side. 

A breathtaking companion to her bestselling debut The Break, Vermette's The Strangers brings readers into the dynamic world of the Stranger family, the strength of their bond, the shared pain in their past, and the light that beckons from the horizon. This is a searing exploration of race, class, inherited trauma, and matrilineal bonds that—despite everything—refuse to be broken. (From Hamish Hamiton)

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

Katherena Vermette is a Métis writer living in Winnipeg. Her other 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.

Why Katherena Vermette wrote The Strangers

"I love that idea that we come from that egg of our mother that actually was grown inside of our grandmother. I love that idea of how connected we are to our grandparents. I love the idea that we are born literally inside our grandmothers. We are housed inside of them as much as we are housed inside of our mothers. 

I love that idea of how connected we are to our grandparents. I love the idea that we are born literally inside our grandmothers.- Katherena Vermette

"I always say I love 'mama drama.' I'm really attached. I have a fondness for mama drama. It's such an important relationship. It's such a fraught relationship. It's such a complicated relationship. There's so much there. And when we think about ourselves as humans walking around into this world — and we think about how we're connected to each other — I love grandmothers. I think grandmothers are kind of allowed to be a little more perfect than mothers. They get to be the fun ones in a lot more ways than mothers do. 

"I wanted to explore those intergenerational effects of how things are passed down, of how we become who we are based on what we've learned, which is mostly from those who came before us in one way or another."

Read more in her interview with The Next Chapter.

From the book

"Can you believe it, Cedar-Sage?" Mama says. Her voice cracks so I can tell she's not really as happy as she's trying to seem. "You have a nephew! You're an aunty!"

I don't say anything, just push my annoying hair behind my ears and look down at my old leggings. There's a small mustard stain by my knee because I'm such a slob. I pick at it and don't look up. I want to be excited, but mostly I only feel sad. I pull the cuffs of my sweater down all awkward, pull them over my hands, and then remember to nod. Pretend I'm happy. For Mama. But I don't look up. I don't want to.


Excerpted from The Strangers  by Katherena Vermette. Copyright © 2021 Katherena Vermette. Published by Hamish Hamilton Canada, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. 

Interviews with Katherena Vermette

Katherena Vermette talks to Shelagh Rogers about her latest novel, The Strangers. 17:18
Tracey Lindberg was joined on stage by Métis writer Katherena Vermette and Métis writer Cherie Dimaline to talk about race and representation on Canada Reads, CBC's annual battle of the books. 18:21
Author Katherena Vermette brought along her baby girl Ruby when she dropped by our studio in Toronto to take The Next Chapter's Proust questionnaire. 4:35

Other books by Katherena Vermette

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