The Next Chapter

Candy Palmater recommends 3 debut books that should go to the top of your reading list

The Next Chapter columnist Candy Palmater is always on the look out for new voices and perspectives.
Candy Palmater is a columnist for The Next Chapter. (CBC)
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Comedian, reader and The Next Chapter columnist Candy Palmater is always on the look out for new voices and perspectives. She shares three can't-miss books by debut writers.

 A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott

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

"This is a memoir by Alicia Elliott. The title comes from her speaking to people that speak in her own language and trying to get a word definition for depression and mental illness. The speaker said to her — because it's never a word-for-word translation — he said, 'It's kind of like your mind outside of yourself. Your mind spread out on the ground.' I thought that was an incredible way to capture that notion.

"In some ways it's a memoir of Alicia and it's also a memoir of Canada-First Nations relations. She's sharing these stories of her own life, raised in the United States with a white mother who had mental illness and an Indigenous father who battled his own demons.It'sd also about her struggle to fit in — too dark for the white folks and a little too white for the dark folks. At the same time, every time she shares a family story, she's got this cool way of weaving it into things that are happening in Canada in terms of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations. I was taken from the get-go. It's an incredible read. I think everyone will get something out of it."

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta

Frying Plantain is a short story collection by Zalika Reid-Benta. (House of Anansi Press)

"It's a unique collection of short stories. They are all around the same character at different points in her life. In the very first story, she's five and she's in Jamaica visiting her people. She doesn't quite fit in there because she's Canadian born. She comes back to Little Jamaica and her mother is pushing hard for a better life and, as a result, she doesn't fit in with the folks of Little Jamaica. She definitely doesn't fit in with the folks at the fancy school her mom wants her to go to. You check in with the same person 12 times, from five years old to 18 or 19. It's really about three women — the main character, her mother and her grandmother. By the end of it, you really feel, 'No, don't let it end at 18!'"

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Oyinkan Braithwaite is the author of My Sister, The Serial Killer. (Penguin Random House, Studio 24)

"It is a very unique story. It is about a woman who is a nurse and is one of two sisters from a fairly well-to-do family in Nigeria. The sister who is telling the story, the nurse, she's average. She's a little tall for what is considered beautiful in her culture. She's a little plain-looking. Her sister is an absolute knock-out — a real man-killer. The thing is, she actually is a man-killer. She calls her sister, the nurse, when she says, 'Oops, I did it again. I just killed my boyfriend.'

"[Braithwaite] tells the story of Nigeria in this book. You get the feeling of the crooked police state from a simple traffic stop that happens. [The main character] is struggling with her dedication to her sister, her own morals and values around the fact that she knows this is so wrong. At the same time, she is struggling with looking for love from a man she can't get, whereas her sister gets [love] so easily, yet has this problem. Who does she call when her problem needs to be cleaned up? Her sister, the nurse. It's beautifully put together. There's a lot of class and race issues. She dives pretty deep into her parents' relationship. It's a very fast ride with a tongue-in-cheek title; it actually gave me a nice feeling."

Candy Palmater's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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