Day 6

Summer reads: Becky Toyne's reading recommendations to see you through your summer staycation

This summer may be a little different than summers past, but whether you're sticking to your backyard, heading to a cottage, or staying on your couch, Day 6 books columnist Becky Toyne has her annual list of great and timely summer reads.

From page-turners to slow reads, the summer reads list will keep company

Two people read books on a sunny beach.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

It's the first weekend of the summer, even though this year is a little different. More of us may be staycationing rather than vacationing, but there's still one thing you can rely on: the Day 6 summer reading list.

Our Day 6 books columnist, Becky Toyne, has curated a list of summer reading recommendations to keep you company:

Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson

Ridgerunner is set in 1917, mostly in and around Banff, towards the tail end of the First World War. It's sort of a bit of a Western, a bit of a historical novel, a bit of a mystery, a bit of a ghost story. And it's a story about Jack Boulton, who is 12 years old. 

At the beginning of the story, his mother, Mary Boulton, who is the widow from [Adamson's 2007 novel] The Outlander, has died. And so he's left with his father, William Moreland, who is [a thief known as] the Ridgerunner. His father was born under a wandering star, really struggling to stay put in one place. He kind of decides that what he wants to do is take off on this really quite incredible crime spree to steal enough money to secure the future of his son. And while he's gone, he leaves Jack in the care of a rather strange nun.

Ridgerunner is a novel by Gil Adamson. (Boréal, House of Anansi Press)

It is a period of huge change for the characters in the book who are solitary people. It's about survival and how they exist within this very real change that's happening in the world. But it's also this sort of apocalyptic change for a 12-year-old boy of losing his mother and then his father leaving to do something that is for his own good, but very difficult to understand that way as a child.

The father/son relationships in this book in general were really moving to me. Not just the actual father and his son, but in the absence of the ridgerunner, the role that other middle-aged-and-beyond men in the community sort of take upon themselves to sort of care for the 12-year-old boy and offer him a way forward, which I found very powerful and very moving. I loved this book. I hope to see [it on] every award list this fall.

Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump

This is a debut novel. Gabriel Bump is 28 years old and the book came out at the end of February. It's a coming-of-age story of a young Black man, Claude, in Chicago's South Shore in the '90s and 2000s.

Claude is sort of an average kid. He does OK in school. He wishes he was better at basketball than he is. He loves Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

But then also central to the novel is a fictional race riot that is sparked by the killing of an unarmed young Black teenager who is pursued by police officers. A cop sits on his back to prevent him running away, and the teen suffocates and dies.

This all happens in Claude's neighbourhood. And so then this turns into looting and a lot of violence, and other people die. [Claude is] just trying to get on with his life and grow up and then finds himself caught in the middle of all of this. 

He is forced to be political by the virtue of the colour of his skin and the place that he lives in ... [even though] he just wants to get on with being a teenager and falling in love.

It's a coming of age story, so there is a huge, big, powerful, passionate love story in the story as well. And one other thing that I think it's really important to know ... is yes, it's a heavy book — it deals with a lot of heavy things — but it's also laugh-out-loud funny. 

Stay Where I Can See You by Katrina Onstad

It is a domestic psychological thriller. Total page-turner. Gwen in the story is the kind of perfect wife and mother. She lives in the suburbs. She stays home and raises her two children. She is fiercely protective of them in a way that you might be a little bit judgemental of why she is so protective of her children. Of course, there's a deeper story there. 

So she wins $10 million on the lottery, which is enough money to make them pretty rich, but not filthy, filthy rich. It's enough money for them to move back into the city and buy a better house and send the kids to private school and start to have a different kind of life.

It's also enough money for them to have their photograph in the paper. And you realize that part of Gwen's protectiveness of her children is because she's spending her life looking over her shoulder and worried that her past is going to catch up with her. 

Stay Where I Can See You is a book by Katrina Onstad. (HarperCollins Canada, Joanna Haughton)

And so you learn that Gwen was a teen runaway. She was homeless. She was in an abusive relationship. She has an incident in her past that she is terrified of and that she's running away from.

It's a psychological thriller, so of course, we know that her past is going to start to catch up with her.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was the depiction of motherhood ... and how Gwen has made self-sacrificing choices as a mother. And just some of the observations she makes about sort of knowing that, you know, from the moment that your child is born, every day is one day closer to the day that they leave you. So I think any parent, but especially any mother reading this book, will feel loudly heard and clearly seen in these pages. 

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham Thammavongsa is a very well-regarded poet. This is her first work of fiction. It's a collection of exquisite, delicate, compassionate, very moving short, short stories. 

The stories are all about Laotian immigrants to North America. A lot of the stories are told from the perspective of a child narrator. And so you have scenes of children being embarrassed by their parents, but also feeling a great care and protectiveness towards their parents.

How to Pronounce Knife is a novel by Souvankham Thammavongsa. (Sarah Bodri, McClelland & Stewart)

You see the assumptions that are made about their parents by the white society that they are now a part of. And Thammavongsa just kind of opens up these huge stories behind all of the very basic assumptions that I think are made. 

Everything is done with such care in these stories. I found them really moving. I read this book extremely slowly, actually. I read one story and then I would put the book down and come back to it a couple of days later, because I found the language was so poetic.

Produced by Laurie Allan.

Becky Toyne's comments have been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview , download our podcast or click Listen above.

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