27. American Dirt (Cummins, Jeannie)
Despite the raging controversy, American Dirt is a difficult book to put down. It starts with unbelievable violence that leaves Lydia and her son with one option, to take their chances on La Bestia (riding the rails) to escape the cartel which is searching for them. The violence truly takes your breath away and leaves the reader feeling anxious and distraught as they race to the end, hoping for a positive outcome!
Lydia and her son try leave behind their grief and save themselves along with a motley group of migrants, each with their own devastating story. The price for their escape is high and the story includes rape, murder, theft and trauma… I will never walk over a bridge without imagining these characters leaping down onto the top of a moving train!
While some have identified stereotypes within the text, the story does open readers to the experience of migrants as they gamble everything, including their lives, for a better life. In the times of the “build a wall” American President (and I struggle to refer to that man as “president”), this book details the humanity and desperation of migrants through well-researched fiction that helps readers to have empathy for the refugees seeking a better life.
26. Woman on the Edge (Bailey, Samantha M)
This mystery begins when a woman is frantically, handed a baby in a train station. When she looks up she sees the woman, dead on the track. Was it postpartum depression or was there a sinister plot? This novel will keep readers second guessing what is happening almost until the end.
For a debut novel, it was well written and suspenseful. It was a great palate cleansing read and can be read in a day. The main character makes some decisions that leave the reader scratching their head but it is fiction and if you ignore a few of these choices, you will get carried away in the mystery.
25. The Toll (Shusterman, Neal)
I begrudgingly finished the final book in this trilogy. I love to read along and discuss books with the kids and started this series when my son read The Scythe for a grade 7 project.
The Scythe was a terrific tale, I enjoyed the second book but the finale seemed to fall apart. It was a challenge to keep reading to the end but perhaps YA readers would have a different experience.
I would have liked to chat with my son about the challenges faced by Citra and Rowan, in The Toll, but he only finished the first book of the series.
Not being a big fan of watching TV, I do think that this series would make a great movie trilogy!
24. Rick Mercer Final Report
Who doesn’t love a great Rick Mercer rant? The are are fun to watch and fun to read! The rants are short, sarcastic and funny. Written for him to orate in 90 seconds they are each 2-3 pages long and many focus on politics.
I had been looking for a lighter read from a Newfoundland author (after The Wake and Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club) and my friends on the CanadianContent group succeeded with a great suggestion.
I loved reading the sections describing his collaboration with Canadian singer, Jann Arden as well as the time that he spent with Pierre Berton as the 90 year old taught Canadians to roll a joint… and kept the extra weed!
This is a great book to read between more serious tomes… just reading a couple of rants a day is a fun reflection on Canadian politics and issues over the last decade.
23. Radicalized (Doctrow, Cory)
Radicalized was my last Canada Reads book and it was not an easy book for me to finish (or start, if I am honest) but it certainly was thought provoking. It seemed prescient in a time when the world is struggling with homelessness, COVID19, cancer, racism and the disparity between the rich and the poor.
This book is a collection of 4 short stories and would likely be excellent fodder for book club discussions. It is thoughtful and was well-written despite not being my go to genre.
As readers are aware, Canada Reads was postponed due to COVID19 (which feels like its’ own short story) and the debates will start on July 20th! It will be interesting to see how this collection fares amongst strong fiction and a harrowing memoir.
22. Thunderhead (Shusterman, Neal)
After reading The Scythe along with my son who was reading this with his class, I kept going with the series. I enjoyed the characters and the story helped me ponder a society where people can be fixed to the point of immortality. Of course, the world can only support so many individuals so the solution is to glean!
I enjoyed the next instalment in the trilogy and look forward to The Toll. Reading YA is a relaxing type of read, with good fiction and an easier pace when the world which seemed the right choice as early March had us contemplating a potential pandemic.
21. Flowers for Algernon (Keyes, Daniel)
Flowers for Algernon is a thought-provoking story of Algernon (a mouse) and Charlie Gordon (a man with intellectual disabilities) who both experience increases in their intelligence following experimental surgeries. The character of Charlie is so vividly described as he learns about himself, reflects on past experiences, writes case notes and struggles to learn how to interact and live in his world with his new abilities to think and learn.
The book, published in 1966, uses the vernacular of a different time. As a child of the seventies, I recall classrooms called TR room, standing for the “the trainably retarded” and am glad that we no longer uses terms like “retard“, “retardate” and “moron” to describe individuals as they did in this book (and commonly a few decades ago).
My friend recommended this book, recalling that she enjoyed it in grade 10 (in the eighties) and it would be a great book to discuss in relation to understanding and treating others with compassion and respect. It was written in a time when students were segregated based on ability, unlike today where there are blended classrooms.
It is interesting to note that the author worked with students with special needs and was impacted by a student asking for help to “be smart“. According to wikipedia, it was rejected by 5 publishers and was originally written as a short story and later expanded to a novel. By 2004, it had sold over 5 million copies and been published in 27 languages. It was made into a film called Charly which won an Academy Award for best actor.