The Week in Books #95

14/14 ✅

The week in books! I missed posting last Sunday so there’s a big pile to get through this week. I’ve finished this stack plus a few extras, and lots of them were really enjoyable. My favourites from this stack were American War, Trickster Drift and Gilded Ones. Least favourite was probably If You Leave Me, though the majority of them were great so even the lowest ranked was still pretty ok. I picked up some new ones this week from the little free libraries around the island including Shuggie Bain and Hench, but didn’t take a picture. There are LOTS of books on my shelves now that I’m really looking forward to… I’ve actually even created a new stack of books I can’t wait to read (including three Justin bought me off my wish list for Xmas) and I’m putting it up next. There’s just so many books I want to read! If only there was more time in the day.

1. Tears in the Grass by Lynda A. Archer. I didn’t know when I picked this up at GIRO that the author is from Gabriola! Her bio says she’s from a tiny gulf island and I recognized the beach in her photo. The story is about a Cree woman who wants to locate the child she had taken from her following a rape while at residential “school” (I can’t in good conscience refer to them as schools anymore) before she passes away. She asks her daughter and granddaughter to track down the woman so she can make amends. The writing itself was very beautiful; Archer definitely has a way with words, though the actual story moved a little slow at times. The characterization of Elinor was quite endearing and her feistiness made up for the slowness of the plot. Always nice to read something from a local writer.

At ninety years of age, Elinor, a Saskatchewan Cree artist, inveterate roll-your-own smoker, and talker to rivers and stuffed bison, sets out to find something that was stolen almost a lifetime ago. With what little time she has left, she is determined to find the child taken from her after she, only a child herself, was raped at a residential school.

It is 1968, and a harsh winter and harsher attitudes await Elinor, her daughter, and her granddaughter as they set out on an odyssey to right past wrongs, enduring a present that tests their spirit and chips away at their aboriginal heritage. Confronting a history of trauma, racism, love, and cultural survival, Tears in the Grass is the story of an unflagging woman searching for the courage to open her heart to a world that tried to tear it out.

McNally Robinson

2. Wenjack by Joseph Boyden. OOF this is a short story that packs an unbelievable punch right in the feels. It is the story of a real-life Ojibway boy who escaped from residential “school” and followed two brothers back to their family’s home. He then continues on to get back to the land he was taken from. The writing is stunningly beautiful and incredibly moving. The illustrations are also a nice touch; each creature on the cover heads a chapter and they interact with the boy in some way as he makes his escape. Tragic story beautifully told, essential reading.

An Ojibwe boy runs away from a North Ontario Indian School, not realizing just how far away home is. Along the way he’s followed by Manitous, spirits of the forest who comment on his plight, cajoling, taunting, and ultimately offering him a type of comfort on his difficult journey back to the place he was so brutally removed from.

Written by Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning author Joseph Boyden and beautifully illustrated by acclaimed artist Kent Monkman, Wenjack is a powerful and poignant look into the world of a residential school runaway trying to find his way home.…

Penguin Randomhouse

3. Hunting by Stars by Cherie Dimaline. I preordered this sequel to The Marrow Thieves when I first learned it was coming out and was quite excited when it finally arrived. Marrow Thieves was a really good read and so when I heard there was a follow up I knew I had to get it. Hunting by Stars delivered a strong story picking up directly after the events at the end of MT, and I think I liked it even more. I love the idea of a dystopian future where Indigenous people are hunted by whites because they alone possess the ability to dream, something the rest of the population has lost. This is the third book in a row for me that features residential “schools”, though in this story these futuristic facilities are actually marrow harvesting centres looking to expand the number of agents they have brainwashed into bringing in more Indigenous bodies. I enjoyed the quick pacing and the memorable characters, as well as the imaginative world building (not even that far of a stretch from where we are now, in all truthfulness). This is a great pair of books if you are interested in reading more Indigenous dystopian fiction!

The thrilling follow-up to the bestselling, award-winning novel The Marrow Thieves, about a dystopian world where the Indigenous people of North America are being hunted for their bone marrow and ability to dream.

Years ago, when plagues and natural disasters killed millions of people, much of the world stopped dreaming. Without dreams, people are haunted, sick, mad, unable to rebuild. The government soon finds that the Indigenous people of North America have retained their dreams, an ability rumored to be housed in the very marrow of their bones. Soon, residential schools pop up—or are re-opened—across the land to bring in the dreamers and harvest their dreams.

Meanwhile, out in the world, his found family searches for him and dodges new dangers—school Recruiters, a blood cult, even the land itself. When their paths finally collide, French must decide how far he is willing to go—and how many loved ones is he willing to betray—in order to survive. This engrossing, action-packed, deftly-drawn novel expands on the world of Cherie Dimaline’s award-winning The Marrow Thieves, and it will haunt readers long after they’ve turned the final page.

Penguin Randomhouse

4. North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person. I have seen this book around a lot and finally made the time to pick it up. This memoir tells the story of Cea’s very unusual upbringing around Alberta and British Columbia with her counter-culture grandfather and the rest of her largely unstable family. Her mother, frankly, sounded like a complete train wreck, and I heard from a friend that saw the book on my coffee table that the grandfather (who was known to some of her family/friends) was basically a huge asshole. Cea’s story was painfully honest and incredibly captivating. What a roller coaster life she has lived, from residing in a tipi in the northern Canadian wilderness with no luxuries whatsoever to her modelling career that took her around the world and provided freedom from her bonkers mother. Very readable!

Caught up in the counterculture movement of the late 1960s, Cea Person”s grandfather traded the suburban comforts of California for a pot-smoking, free-loving, clothing-optional life under a canvas tipi in the Canadian wilderness.

As a child, Cea knew little about the world beyond her eccentric, hand-to-mouth existence, but her teenage mother, Michelle, found something lacking: a man. With Cea in tow, she hits the road for an insane journey full of ill-fated adventures and the company of spectacularly unsuitable men.

Craving stability and safety, all Cea wants is to be normal. Left to practically raise herself, she promises to find a different life from her usual and dysfunctional upbringing. Determined and resilient, Cea reinvents herself through her successful international modelling career, but her new life brings its own challenges.

Warm and vibrant, Cea”s voice transports readers through a rivetingly dysfunctional childhood in the Canadian wilderness, adolescent modeling success, motherhood and her struggle to confront-and come to terms with-the past.

Chapters Indigo

5. If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim. I was drawn to this book because of the beautiful cover, and became even more interested when I saw it was a story set in Korea during the Korean War in the 1950’s. Haemi is in love with Kyunghwan but accepts a proposal from his wealthy cousin Jisoo in order to support her aging mother and ill brother. What follows is a picture of an unhappy marriage and missed opportunity. To be honest I hated Haemi, even though she had a hard life filled with disappointment her attitude was just so unappealing and it made it hard to root for her. Overall the story dragged a lot towards the end and it lacked any kind of satisfying resolution, though a novel doesn’t necessarily have to have a good ending it does help me enjoy it a bit more. I liked the descriptions of Korea during the war, and I liked that it was told from a variety of different perspectives, but in general I didn’t love this one.

An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.

Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman’s longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.

Chapters Indigo

6. American War by Omar El Akkad. This is an excellent dystopian story of a future America divided into North and South following a second civil war. It felt so plausible I actually had to keep reminding myself it was a work of fiction set in the future and not the present day. I loved the characterization of Sarat Chestnut, the young girl at the heart of the novel that grows up in the South and becomes involved in conflict through the guidance of a secretive older man. I seriously loved this one so much. It’s gritty and violent but also about family loyalty and in a weird way the coming-of-age story of a child of war. Very realistic, very powerful.

A unique and eerily convincing masterwork, American War takes a scalpel to American politics, precisely dissecting it to see what would happen if their own policies were turned against them. The answer: inevitable, endless bloodshed.

In a disturbingly believable near future, the need for sustainable energy has torn the United States apart. The South wants to maintain the use of fossil fuels, even though the government in The North has outlawed them. Now, unmanned drones patrol the skies, and future martyrs walk the markets. For the first time in three hundred years, America is caught up in a civil war. Out of this turmoil comes Sarat Chestnut, a southern girl born into the ongoing conflict. At a displaced persons camp, a mysterious older man takes her under his wing, and while her family tries to survive, Sarat is made into a deadly instrument of war, with consequences for the entire nation.

Penguin Randomhouse

7. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. This is another selection of the Reese Witherspoon book club that I picked up at VV this past week… I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the list of books Reese (or her team) has selected for her club, there is a good variety of titles, much better than Oprah! This collection is from Austin Brown, a Black woman deliberately given the name of a white man by her parents to make her future resumes more likely to get a fair shot. Admittedly I also thought the author was male, and was happy to discover the photo on the jacket was of a WOC as I have continued to try to prioritize reading books by WOC over white, male authors. This is an insightful collection of essays about race and Blackness as it exists in a world dominated by whiteness. As a Christian woman Austin’s viewpoint is slightly different from the writers I have already read on this topic, and I can appreciate that. She shares stories from her upbringing in predominantly white communities and talks about the ways in which she has faced racism in the workplace and beyond. I found it very interesting and informative, even though as she points out it’s not actually her job to educate white people on how to respect and be good allies to Black people. Definitely recommend.

Austin Channing Brown’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age seven, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools and churches, Austin writes, “I had to learn what it means to love blackness,” a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, speaker, and expert helping organizations practice genuine inclusion.

In a time when nearly every institution (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claims to value diversity in its mission statement, Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice. Her stories bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric—from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.

For readers who have engaged with America’s legacy on race through the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, I’m Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God’s ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness—if we let it—can save us all.

Penguin Randomhouse

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