From Horror to Hope

Two books written  about the experiences of North American Indigenous women had the power to shake my assumption, based on a lot of previous reading on the subject, that I understood the kind of pain and suffering that First Nations women and girls have endured since colonialism ripped their worlds asunder.

NotYourPrincess#NotYourPrincess, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, is a stunningly beautiful compilation of short stories and poetry, written as “…a love letter to all young indigenous women trying to find their way, but also to dispel those stereotypes so we can collectively move forward to a brighter future for all”.

Broken down into four sections, the selections take us from horror to hope, from brokenness to healing. The written words are accompanied by rich and powerful artwork and photography and compel the reader to stop and breathe in the message being relayed. The emotional intensity jumps off the page and takes your breath away, not just as an empathetic response but as a celebratory ‘high five’ for the healing that is happening and the strides that are being made.  A mere 109 pages in length, this book doesn’t ask for a huge commitment from the reader but it gives back value a hundred times over.

calling down the skyRosanna Deerchild, a celebrated author and broadcaster, has written Calling Down the Sky, a powerful poetry collection that gives voice to the generational effects of her mother’s experience as a residential school survivor. You can sense the struggle her mother feels when her daughter prods her to share her story. She is overflowing with the emotional impact  of her experience and yet overwhelmed by the telling of it.

One of my first thoughts reading Deerchild’s poems was how she used such small words and yet the message they delivered was like a punch to the gut. I could almost visualize her mother reverting back to the language of a child as she remembered the cruelty and horror inflicted on her and her fellow ‘inmates’. No flowery language required; her voice is as trenchant  as the cruelty bestowed upon them.

Both are stunning and important works of art.

— Nancy C.

The Winnowing

The trickiest questions I’m asked at WPL’s Information Desk often come from vivacious teen dystopian readers. They have already read all the popular titles. They were captivated by The Hunger Games long before it was popular. They were engrossed in Divergent long before it was made into a movie. They devoured Lois Lowry’s books before they even got to high school. So what’s left to recommend? Thankfully, Canadian author Vikki VanSickle has come to the rescue with her latest title, The Winnowing.

The Winnowing offers a retelling of history, mixed with conspiracy and science fiction. After World War II the world faces a spreading infertility crisis. No children have been born since the end of the war and the human race faces extinction. Fast forward to 1989 – the small town of Darby, New Mexico is home to a group of scientists who have miraculously found a way to reverse the crisis. The cure is now administered to all children.

The book begins with a young woman, Marivic, having vivid nightmares of running through burning lava. The dream seems so real that it feels as though her feet are truly being scorched. This is the first sign of ACES (Adolescent Chromosomniatic Episodes), the side effect of the cure that all teenagers experience during the onset of puberty. Next, they will develop extraordinary abilities that stretch beyond human limitations. If they do not undergo a procedure called The Winnowing, they become a danger to themselves and those around them. Those who complete the winnowing are left with hazy memories, unable to recall any specific details of the procedure.

Like all teenagers in Darby, Marivic is sent to a medical centre to be treated for her ACES. Her best friend Saren is already there, having started treatment sometime earlier. Together they encounter a suspicious young man who claims to have information linking The Winnowing to more sinister events.

Science fiction enthusiasts will notice various references to famous sci-fi creators sprinkled throughout the novel, the most notable being the character of Dr. Roddenbury (a nod to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenbury).

The Winnowing, which is a Red Maple Fiction Award nominee, will appeal to vivacious dystopian fans, as well as those who enjoy a good conspiracy theory.

— Lesley L.

The Rule of Stephens

I heard a radio interview recently with a fascinating Canadian author named Timothy Taylor and wondered why I hadn’t read his books before. Then, when I checked on his previous books in the WPL catalogue, I saw that he had been shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2002 and I sussed out the reason for this gap in my knowledge. Kids.

My kids were the problem. Timothy Taylor wrote his first two books when our children were very small and I was too busy taking them to the library or reading them the book Maisy Goes to the Library over and over. There is a whole pocket of things every parent misses when their children are young and then, when they reach their teen years, that time slowly comes back in bits and bobs. Often my time comes to me when I am waiting for them outside of practices and rehearsals so recently I enjoyed reading The Rule of Stephens.

Oh, how I enjoyed reading this book. And yet, I feel horrible writing that I enjoyed reading this book because it is partially about a terrifying airplane crash with only a handful of the passengers surviving. The novel begins with the author describing the life of one of the survivors, named Catherine. She is a doctor who has left her practice behind to begin a groovy medical start-up (her office is in a warehouse filled with computer geniuses and analysts who bring their dogs to work, leave their bikes next to their desks, experiment with any type of food and have a teepee in the middle of their workspace) and carries a print out of the airplane seats with a notation of the people who survived the crash.

The author’s incredible attention to detail – outstanding and unusual details – is part of what makes this novel one that will stay in my memory for a long time and become one that I suggest to friends and customers who like an unusual story but also one that has wonderful moments of humanity.

Catherine is struggling with the kind of emotion that you would expect from someone who survives a plane crash over the ocean and she relives those horrifying moments when the plane starts to split apart, sharing them with her co-workers and others who are close to her. As she explores huge questions about how she lives her life she is managing her start up, possibly beginning a romantic relationship for the first time since the crash, negotiating with the horrible man who loaned her the capital for her company, and getting to know one of the other survivors from the flight. Really, this doesn’t sound like a book that would take on a page-turning pace but it does because of the unexpected turn that Timothy Taylor takes in the second half of the book. It almost makes you second-guess reality and that’s where the title comes into play.

Catherine has a wonderful sister and, when they were younger, they would reference the rule of the two ‘Stephens’ – one is Stephen King and the other is Stephen Hawking. Being a physician, she much prefers the scientific world of Hawking but there are moments in the book where it seems like the events Catherine is experiencing might be more at home in a plot written by the man from Bangor, Maine. I was just thrilled to see the book unfold and can’t imagine how Timothy Taylor didn’t constantly pat himself on the back and say “good job” after he finished a chapter. It was such an incredibly interesting read – different from anything I had read before.

So, as I do with many of the books I love, I stayed up far too late reading this one. When I was finished I looked at the clock, berated myself for being so foolish (in staying up late) and then turned back to the beginning so that I could ‘meet’ Catherine again for the first time. She was just as fascinating the second time. When common sense finally took hold I was able to console myself with two things – we have several of Timothy Taylor’s other books here at WPL for my reading enjoyment and he is a prolific writer in other forms so his website is a treasure trove of wonderful material to explore. Now I just have to wait for those pesky kids to move out so I have time to read everything.

— Penny M.

Listen Up!

I love nothing more than discovering new musicians and being the one to introduce these amazing artists to other music lovers!

Leon Bridges is my latest ‘find’ and his debut album Coming Home is a treat for the ears!! Released in 2015, it is garnering a lot of critical acclaim. Stylistically, Bridges could be likened to ’60s soul with overtones of Rhythm and Blues. Bridges, along with co-writers Austin Michael Jenkins, Joshua Block and Chris Vivion, takes the listener back to the early days of R & B reminiscent of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. Jeff Dazey’s magnificent saxophone had me swooning. It is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach… the way to mine is the sensuality of the saxophone! Let the sultry sound melt your heart in Lisa Sawyer… it’s visceral!!! If you are looking for a gospel fix, River will take you down! For a quick peek at this amazing artist, check out Tiny Desk Concert. This album is a treasure and I can hardly wait for his next release which is slated for sometime in 2018.

baziniCanada’s own Bobby Bazini is another young singer-songwriter lighting up the airwaves with a voice that moves between husky and deep-chested to soft and melodious. Hailing from Quebec, his latest album Summer is Gone has a soul/folk feel and his lyrics add another level of depth and richness, pulling the listener into his emotional rendering of these songs. Bazini has created an album full of songs that cover the spectrum for emotive style allowing him to showcase his powerfully stirring voice. This is the third album Bazini has released in his career and he is showing no sign of slowing down.

— Nancy C.

Men & Women of Our Past

Greetings from the Ellis Little Local History Room!

The Ellis Little Local History Room is located at WPL’s Main Library. The many threads of Waterloo’s history are woven together in our extensive collection of photos, documents, newspaper articles, books and more. One of the most unique and precious collections in the room is the Ellis Little Papers.

Ellis Little was a local historian and retired teacher who spent many hours at the Waterloo Public Library researching the history of Waterloo. When he passed away in 2004, all of his research papers (“The Ellis Little Papers”) were donated to the library. Often Little’s research notes were written on the backs of scrap paper, which adds an interesting flavour to the files. His papers have given many researchers (myself included) insight into those hard-to-find local history topics.

There are many intriguing files in the Ellis Little Papers, but one of the best is called Men and Women of Our Past. This file is a collection of handwritten biographies that Little wrote during his years of research. The biographies focus on people from Waterloo’s earliest days. Some cover the expected prominent figures, such as Abraham Erb who was the first permanent resident of Waterloo, but many more are about people who might sometimes be overlooked.

For example, did you know that there was a Waterloo doctor named Dr. William Sowers Bowers who married a woman named Hannah Flowers? Dr. Bowers trained at the University of North York, and had a medical practice in the house of John Hoffman on King Street South. The charming story of this rhyming family is just the beginning of what can be found in the Ellis Little Biographies.

Sometimes the biographies are only a few lines long, but no matter the length, each biography has a list of information sources at the end. The book Welcome to Waterloo by Marg Rowell, Ed Devitt and Pat McKegney must have been a favourite resource for Little as it often appears in the source section for the biographies. Little also used newspaper articles, local atlases, registries and Waterloo Historical Society articles as sources for the bios. These source lists now provide an excellent path for researchers to chase down primary documents and find even more information about the people Little wrote about.

The Ellis Little Biographies are definitely worth checking out if you want to know more about past Waterloo residents. The original paper versions are available in the Ellis Little Local History Room. With volunteer help, we are transcribing all of the Ellis Little Biographies and making them available through Our Ontario, which hosts WPL’s local history collection online. This is an ongoing digitization project but we already have 80 biographies uploaded and ready for you to enjoy.

Reading through these biographies is a great reminder that the past is made up of people who lived their daily lives and made decisions that would influence the future, just as we are doing today.

— Jenna H.

Bala’s Bestseller Ignites Questions

What if you realized that the only thing you know for sure is that you don’t know anything for sure! The Boat People by Sharon Bala is certain to ignite some questions about the beliefs and prejudices the reader holds and may be a reminder to people to assess what governments say and do with more judicious reflection.

The Boat People is about the plight of, among others, a Tamil widower, Mahindan, and his six year old son, Sellian, who are smuggled into Canadian waters in 2009 on an illegal ship. The story flips between their present situation of being detained in a B.C. prison in admission limbo, and the travails of the civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government during the early 2000’s that drove their desperate escape and search for safety.

The adjudicator for Mahindan’s case is Grace Nakamura, whose parents were affected by the internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII. Grace’s mother, Kumi, is beginning to question the moral and legal rights of the government who robbed her family of their hope and dignity throughout that process. Watching her mother roil in her resentment and anger at the injustices suffered, Grace is forced to look at what lengths governments will go to in order to ‘keep the peace’.

In an age when terrorism is being played out with such frequency and ferocity, it is easy to point fingers and paint entire groups of people as ‘terrorists’. But what if we changed the script and really believed that 99 percent of the people labelled in such a way just want to live their lives in peace and harmony. Most Canadians have been spared the agony of living in a country embroiled in a civil war. Where you live in a war-torn country may be the determining factor to where your loyalties lie but is that true loyalty or loyalty born from fear of the repercussions of non-alliance? What would any of us do to protect our loved ones from the savagery of war?

The Boat People demonstrates the extreme lengths people will go to in order to protect their families. It also raises questions about the way the Canadian refugee/asylum system handles the complexities of war ravaged individuals who arrive on our shores, frantic to find safety and peace.

— Nancy C.

(Book Clubs note: The Boat People would be an excellent book club selection, generating dialogue and discussion)

 

Seven Fallen Feathers

I am struggling with what to say about Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death And Hard Truths In A Northern City by Tanya Talaga. It is a raw, deeply moving and horrifying look at how our Indigenous youth continue to be treated in this country, specifically in Thunder Bay in this instance. It takes us through the stories of seven teenagers who came to their deaths living in a city far from home, because education at home was not an option for them. Forced to live in boarding houses with strangers, they were overwhelmed by urban life and while there were many conscientious and heartfelt attempts by kind-hearted souls to try to ease the blow of assimilating, the truth of the matter is that these kids were separated from family and friends during a very difficult transitional period.

It is the story of the families left behind without answers to why their children perished. It is the story of racism and neglect in a 21st century Canadian community. The cover of the book was painted by the father of one of the victims, Christian Morrisseau, son of renowned painter Norval Morrisseau. It is a stunningly beautiful depiction of the fragility of life and the incredible strength of the human spirit.

How is it that in 2018, a large segment of our population continues to be treated as ‘savages’ with no access to clean water, health services and educational opportunities for their youth? What aspect of colonialism is still so embedded into our national psyche that we are not pounding on the doors of every single Member of Parliament to demand action immediately? It is inconceivable that children still need to be flown to ‘residential’ schools hours away from their families and communities. We have the money to bail out Bombardier but we can’t erect schools, water purification systems or hospitals for our Indigenous communities. We pay huge amounts of money to ineffective and inefficient political policies and procedures but don’t have the financial resources to live up to the false promises that have been made over and over and over again.

This book should be essential reading for anyone holding or aspiring to hold political office in this country. This book should be part of the curriculum in every high school across Canada. And, it should be mandatory reading for any and all people involved in our legal, policing and judicial systems.

-Nancy C.

What a Great Read!

What a great read! One wouldn’t think so given The Prisoner and the Chaplain by Michelle Berry is about a man who is down to his last twelve hours on earth before his execution for a heinous crime.  The chaplain who is to accompany the prisoner during this final stage of his life is a substitute for the regular chaplain who has been known to the prisoner, Larry, during his 10 years on death row. The chaplain, Jim, has tried to get up to speed about Larry’s life and crimes but knows that he is entering into a situation for which he is not prepared.

Being opposed to the death penalty, Jim struggles as he listens to Larry begin to unpack the story of his life, a childhood that was atypical in that his mother ran off with his older brother when he was just seven years old. Having been left with an older sister and an alcoholic, emotionally abusive father, Larry learns to navigate his way through his lonely life the best way he knows how. Without a mentor to keep him on the straight and narrow, Larry turns to petty crime and discovers that this is something at which he can and does excel.

Larry’s recounting of the story of his life triggers within Jim the anguish of his own personal failings brought on by challenges he faced as a child. Those same failings are what have directed him to the chaplaincy and he is torn by the conflicting emotions that Larry’s story has awakened within him.

The final hours creep by as both men are consumed in the devastation of their personal journeys and yet, in spite of the differences in their circumstances, they develop a mutual trust and bond that will endure, at least for Jim, well beyond the final act of cruelty.

To me, this story reinforces why the death penalty should not be the retribution of a civilized people.

— Nancy C.

Note: author Michelle Berry is the owner of an independent bookstore, Hunter Street Books, in Peterborough, Ontario

 

This is your holiday read

I just read the best book. It’s called Roost and it’s written by Ali Bryan who is Canadian. It came out in 2013 and is her first novel. I can’t wait for her next which is called “The Figgs” and comes out May 2018.

Bryan’s novel is the first person story of single mother Claudia who lives in Halifax and works full-time. She shops at Canadian Tire and Joe Fresh, often thinking back to happier days when she didn’t buy her clothes in a grocery store. Claudia lives with her two toddlers, Wes and Joan who are hilarious and so well written they dance off the page. This entire book is so funny I laughed out loud during the whole thing and it’s also so, so smart. I had the treat to go to Toronto to visit my Aunt a week ago and started reading it on the early morning train and I was laughing before 7am in the No-Talk zone! Don’t tell!

Claudia is separated from her husband Glen but still relies on him heavily to help out with household maintenance like finally removing the ugly rooster border in her kitchen. She knows she needs to let go, but not yet. Every time he comes over to help or take the children for his weekend, she notices something new about him; a new car or pair of pants. He gets a new dog and a fancy apartment and takes up painting when Claudia barely has time most days for a shower. Even the kids behave better around him. These details take Glen further and further away from Claudia while she feels like she can barely keep her head above water.

Things get worse when her mother dies; no spoiler here, it’s how the book begins. She and her brother Dan and his wife must find time to grieve while caring for their father who is not doing well on his own. It’s just all too much. Dan’s life is perfect and completely opposite from Claudia’s, until he shows what a jerk he is when his wife begins to suffer from postpartum depression and he can’t understand or help her. There are so many poignant parts that are lovely and make your heart do that happy/sad heavy flippy thing (I know you know what I mean).

It is a story everyone can relate to; family squabbles, overtired children during the holidays, running around but never feeling you’re doing well enough. It’s about having a hard time when things have to change and you don’t want them to. It’s about those lovely and chaotic moments with you kids. It is a short book, just under 300 pages and I’d say perfect for reading over the holidays, one night when you can sneak away from the craziness and take a bath. It is a glimpse into the lives of this family. There are no surprises or lessons learned, just about good people doing their best.

-Sarah C.