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STAFF PICKS

October 2020

Jo's Picks

Luster

by Raven Leilani
(Doubleday Canada)

'I think to myself, You are a desirable woman. You are not a dozen gerbils in a skin casing.'  Edie is a young black woman stumbling through life, lonely, unfulfilled by her career, and apt to make cringe-worthingly bad decisions, in particular when it comes to her sexual encounters.  After being fired, she finds herself aimless and lost, and in an effort to claim back something of her life she gets involved in a white couple's open marriage, becoming a confidante of the wife's, and a role model to their daughter who is also black. Edie's voice is wry and self-aware, sharp and whip-smart, a little subversive, and filled with unexpected humour. An incisive look at race, gender, class and sexuality. If you enjoyed Sally Rooney's Normal People, you'll love this raunchy, debut novel.

 

Crosshairs

by Catherine Hernandez
(HarperCollins)

In this dystopian thriller set in a near- future Canada wracked by global warming, that seems all too possible, marginalized members of society including the LGBTQIA+ community, people of colour, the elderly, and the disabled have been forced into labour camps by the Canadian government who have allied with the U.S. under the banner Two Nations, One Vision. Kay, a trans woman and drag performer is on the run, forced to flee her Toronto home and eventually joins the resistance against a government sanctioned regime called The Boots. A love letter to her lost partner, this is a shocking and devastating, profound and necessary read.

 

Annaka

by Andre Fenton
(Nimbus Publishing)

Black teen Annaka (who hates her name) returns home to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia with her successful artist mother when her beloved grandfather Grampy dies suddenly. Having left when she was seven to go and live in Halifax, Anna has always struggled to find her place and define home. Her grandmother who is recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's doesn't remember her and Anna searches her memories and her old journals for reminders of the past. Also from her past is her imaginary childhood friend Clay who makes himself known to her again. Clay has been waiting all this time for Anna and with his help and the journals, she is able to go back in time both reliving old joys and connections and gaining insight into Grampy's life. Can memories be regained? Can she help her grandmother? And understand her mother? Or is it dangerous to meddle with the past? Anna is a fully-fleshed character and this novel is a loving ode to family.

The Barren Grounds

by David A Robertson
(Puffin Canada)

With a nod to Narnia and magical portals, this middle-grade novel weaves Cree myth, culture and history with adventure and fantasy to create a wondrous world with many themes (residential schools, colonialism, environmental protection) to ponder. Though they may have finally found a permanent home, foster kids Morgan and Eli have been shunted from family to family their whole lives. Morgan has been disconnected from her own ancestry while Eli still remembers. Struggling to fit in at home and at school, the two stumble across a whole new world, accessed through one of Eli's drawings in their attic hideaway. Misewa, once green and fertile with plentiful game, has been turned into a barren, frozen waste and the inhabitants, upright walking and talking animals, are starving. The two children meet Ochek (Fisher) a hunter who is his people's only chance for survival. Along with Arik (Squirrel) they embark on a perilous mission to find the human who has caused this endless winter.

 
 

Anne-Marie's Picks

A Great Big Night

written by Kate Inglis
illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
(Nimbus Publishing)

A friend of mine who writes for children insists picture books must be read aloud to be fully appreciated. Since my daughter wasn't around - who at 14 will still sometimes humour me with a read-through - I had to read this title aloud to myself, and that was when it really popped and zinged. “The music train was a happy sight -  Clickity-clackity three on bikes - Rolling in for a great big night.” The animals of the great green forest are abuzz with news that roving frog musicians have rolled into town with a motley collection of instruments. Soon they are all pounding the grass flat with jigs and reels, all except Grouse, that is, who disdains such idle lollygagging. Yet when a storm blows through and takes Grouse’s house and treasured belongings with it, those same lollygaggers come to his rescue. A toe-tapping rallying song summons a jolly crowd that makes quick work of cleaning up and rebuilding Grouse’s home. Riotous collage-style illustrations in this lyrical picture book help convey the cacophony of the travelling players who spread tunes, fun and, as even Grouse must concede, community throughout the forest.

 

Night Walk

written by Sara O'Leary
illustrated by Ellie Arscott
(Groundwood Books)

My second pick this month is decidedly less raucous in its depiction of community. In the quiet of the night, a little girl can’t sleep. Her dad suggests they go for a walk, which leaves the girl wide-eyed with wonder. Never before has she gone out after dark “just to be out.” She feels like an explorer as her familiar town reveals itself in new and strange ways. She can peer into illuminated windows and see neighbours living lives she usually can’t see. She marvels at a big family eating a meal that is too late for supper and too early for breakfast, she ponders at the sheer number of people bustling about when she is usually in bed. The detailed ink and watercolour illustrations deftly capture the magic of the nightscape. The little girl reflects, “I’ve always lived here, surrounded by people I know and people I don’t know.” And everyone, this gentle picture book reminds us, makes up a community rooted in time and space.

The Little Ghost Who Was a Quilt

written by Riel Nason
illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler
(Tundra Books)

In this seasonal offering, a little ghost bemoans the fact that he is a quilt instead of a sheet. While his friends and family can spirit around as light as air, all his layers of heavy fabric make his airborne antics awkward and clumsy and often land him in a bundle on the floor. Atmospheric illustrations in a muted palette of black and other neutral colours depict a shadowy world where the little ghost’s patchwork pattern sticks out like a sore thumb. But one Halloween, his full fabric figure results in an exciting adventure that is uniquely his own, and he - and his friends - learn to revel in his unusual ghostly attributes.

 

Jo's Recommendations

Anne-Marie's Recommendations