'What is a book young Canadians should read in 2022?' 4 Canadian teens from Poetry in Voice share their picks

Ahead of the virtual 2022 Poetry in Voice final on April 21, some English-language finalists share book recommendations for their generation.

High school students from across Canada were chosen from thousands to compete in a national poetry performance competition known as Poetry in Voice. Students are tasked with selecting two or three poems from a list and then memorizing and performing those poems.

The final competition will be broadcast live online on April 21, 2022 on the Poetry in Voice website. The finals will be hosted by former CBC Radio personality Johanne Blais.

In advance of the finals, CBC Books asked some of the finalists about the one book they think their entire generation should read.

Lauren Altomare from Toronto recommends Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Lauren Altomare is a student at Northern Secondary School in Toronto. (Submitted by Lauren Altomare, Vintage Canada)

"Whether admiring the kaleidoscopic hues of apocalyptic sunsets, recovering from psychological traumas or being strangled in romantic affairs, Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake packs a punch for any daring human willing to read their fate. With each page, Atwood depicts an unsettling dystopian society — one urging readers to consider their responsibility as global citizens.

"Set in a not-too-distant future, Atwood's 2003 speculative fiction novel opens during the aftermath of a plague eradicating civilization — or rather, most of it. Jimmy, the supposed last human on Earth, finds himself leading a group of genetically engineered homo sapiens through the deserted planet.

"As the days stumble along, the middle-aged man teeters between his past and present while attempting to puzzle out the cause of human extinction. Voices of his lover, Oryx, and familial figures guide him through his memories of growing up in a world where monopolizing corporations assume the roles of governments and scientific developments trump artistic pursuits.

Through sardonic humour and breaths of raw poetry, Atwood urges us to reflect on our moral obligation to preserve humanity.- Lauren Altomare

"Aside from the unsettling similarities between the fictional plague in the novel and the COVID-19 pandemic, Oryx and Crake warns of the dangers of neglecting to solve world issues. In the current political climate, with global warming, mental health crises and international disputes running rampant, reading about the development of these fictional yet familiar conflicts is essential for my generation, our future leaders. With depleted agricultural supplies, murderous government enterprises and social segregation, the text illustrates the horrors that arise when technological advancements bypass ethical concerns, corporations exploit healthcare systems, and populations devalue artistic creations.

"Through sardonic humour and breaths of raw poetry, Atwood urges us to reflect on our moral obligation to preserve humanity. After all, Oryx and Crake isn't just another dystopian novel: it's a call to action. Today's readers will become tomorrow's leaders, and lucky for us, we have a chance to prevent the worst to come."

LISTEN | Margaret Atwood on CBC Radio's The Sunday Magazine:

Author Margaret Atwood's new collection of essays Burning Questions: Essays and Occasional Pieces, 2004 -2021 covers close to two decades of her thoughts during a period of tumultuous change — a period that included a financial crisis, the rise of Trump, the continuing climate crisis, and the #Metoo movement. She sits down with Piya to talk about her new non-fiction book — which is a window into her thinking on where we are culturally today.

Stephanie Omoritonmwan from Calgary, recommends The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Stephanie Omoritonmwan is a student at All Saints High School from Calgary. (Balzer + Bray, Submitted by Stephanie Omoritonmwan)

"A book I would recommend to the people of my generation would be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It's an urban fiction novel that tells the story of Starr Carter, a girl who lives within two worlds: a poor neighbourhood where she has been brought up in and the fancy prep school that she attends. Everything takes a toll on her when Starr takes passenger-side witness to the shooting and death of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, an act committed by a police officer. 

"The story of the shooting makes the news and conspiracies about the life he lived begin to erupt. As people call him a drug dealer or even a thug, protestors take to the streets on a mission to clear Khalil's name. Some police officers try to intimidate Starr and her family. What is the true story of what happened that night? Only Starr knows. Starr must make a decision on what to say, knowing that it could put her and the people of her community in danger.

"This book portrays something that is being hidden by the media and not talked about enough — police violence. One of the most unveiling quotes in the book would be, 'The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen — people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe this can be it.'

I recommend this book to the people of my generation because it brings awareness of police violence and the outrage it causes for the victims' families.- Stephanie Omoritonmwan

"The author illustrates a great depiction that police violence happens a disturbing amount of times —  all around the world — and ever so rarely do the victims get justice. I recommend this book to the people of my generation because it brings awareness of police violence and the outrage it causes for the victims' families.

"This novel unapologetically strips down the topic of the shootings of unarmed Black people by police officers. This novel made me feel all sorts of emotions and although it's fiction, it is based on real-life events. The incident with Khalil is something that has occurred too many times and this book brings great awareness to that. There are those books that are important and timely.

"Books that you can read over and over again without getting bored. Books that bring tears to your eyes every time that you read them. The Hate U Give is that book."

LISTEN | Angie Thomas on CBC Radio's Q:

Bestselling author Angie Thomas spoke with guest host Talia Schlanger about her latest release, Concrete Rose. The novel is a prequel to The Hate U Give, written from the perspective of Maverick Carter, the father of the first book's protagonist.

Al Gilbert from Winnipeg recommends I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Al Gilbert is a student at Kildonan-East Collegiate in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Al Gilbert, PUSH)

"The book I recommend everyone in my generation to read is I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver. After Ben comes out as non-binary to their unaccepting family, they are kicked out of the house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah. Ben is filled with anxiety about starting a new life in a new school, and they wish to just keep a low profile until they finish, but Nathan, a funny, charismatic and flirty classmate, makes it hard to do so.

I recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with their identity, having a hard time finding community, or anyone who just needs a heartfelt and raw read.​​​​​​- Al Gilbert

"I Wish You All the Best is a wonderful representation of LGBTQ+ identities and young queer relationships, It perfectly captures the feelings of grief after losing your family, anxiety about starting a new life and stress and fear about whether or not a relationship will work out. Even if the reader isn't LGBTQ+, they will surely still find something to relate to and connect with. This book shows that life is hard, especially as a queer teen, but it gets better the more you go on.

"I recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with their identity, having a hard time finding community, or anyone who just needs a heartfelt and raw read."

Bem Denga from Calgary, recommends Suite Français by Irène Némirovsky

Bem Denga is a student at Webber Academy in Calgary. (Vintage Canada, submitted by Bem Denga)

"While choosing one written work out of many great ones can be a challenging task, there is one book that stood out to me as particularly fitting for this day and age. Irène Némirovsky's Suite Français is a book that I have been enamoured with since the first time I opened it. 

"The book is made of two novellas —Tempête en juin and Dolce — and allows us to get a glimpse into what life was like for everyday citizens from the German invasion of France in June 1940. Right from the beginning, one is transported to a city facing a deluge of unrelenting artillery fire and shelling. The sounds of air-raid sirens and the nearly empty city streets work together to create a sense of fear and trepidation. Throughout the text, Némirovsky illustrates the widespread pandemonium, human suffering and loss of life that results from one tyrannical autocrat's malevolent machinations. Through the characters' eyes, one is able to gain insight into the tragedies that unfolded and how different people in society would have experienced them. 

This novel is unlike many others about the Second World War in that it was written during the time of the conflict.- Bem Denga

"This novel is unlike many others about the Second World War in that it was written during the time of the conflict. This was almost unheard of and only serves to increase the regard and admiration one has for the book. The book was supposed to comprise five novellas including the two aforementioned ones. Némirovsky regrettably never had the chance to finish the last three novellas as, like many other unfortunate souls, she was arrested simply because of her Jewish-Ukrainian heritage and transported to Auschwitz where she died one month later. 

"I recommend this book as it is particularly appropriate for our time. Like the families in the novel, there are many today who are suffering due to a despot's grotesque invasion of a sovereign state. The world has watched with revulsion as this watershed moment in human history unfolds. This book allows one to gain a sense of what the indomitable people of Ukraine are going through and clearly illustrates why the cessation of the war is imperative. I hope you get yourself a copy and enjoy it."

These comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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