Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

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“You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine” is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling debut novel by poet Joshua Whitehead.

Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez”–and his former life–to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The seven days that follow are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother).

Jonny’s life is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages–and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.Jonny Appleseed is a unique, shattering vision of First Nations life, full of grit, glitter, and dreams.

About the Author

Globe and Mail Review

Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian Review

Huffington Post Interview

CBC: The Next Chapter Interview (audio)


Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Find out more about Canada Reads @ the Library and register here for this fun-filled night of lively debate on March 5 @ 7PM (via Zoom).

The Boys meets My Year of Rest and Relaxation in this smart, imaginative, and evocative novel of love, betrayal, revenge, and redemption, told with razor-sharp wit and affection, in which a young woman discovers the greatest superpower—for good or ill—is a properly executed spreadsheet.

Anna does boring things for terrible people because even criminals need office help and she needs a job. Working for a monster lurking beneath the surface of the world isn’t glamorous. But is it really worse than working for an oil conglomerate or an insurance company? In this economy?

As a temp, she’s just a cog in the machine. But when she finally gets a promising assignment, everything goes very wrong, and an encounter with the so-called “hero” leaves her badly injured.  And, to her horror, compared to the other bodies strewn about, she’s the lucky one.

So, of course, then she gets laid off.

With no money and no mobility, with only her anger and internet research acumen, she discovers her suffering at the hands of a hero is far from unique. When people start listening to the story that her data tells, she realizes she might not be as powerless as she thinks.

Because the key to everything is data: knowing how to collate it, how to manipulate it, and how to weaponize it. By tallying up the human cost these caped forces of nature wreak upon the world, she discovers that the line between good and evil is mostly marketing.  And with social media and viral videos, she can control that appearance.

It’s not too long before she’s employed once more, this time by one of the worst villains on earth. As she becomes an increasingly valuable lieutenant, she might just save the world.

A sharp, witty, modern debut, Hench explores the individual cost of justice through a fascinating mix of Millennial office politics, heroism measured through data science, body horror, and a profound misunderstanding of quantum mechanics.

About the Author

NPR Review

Tor Review

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books Interview (podcast)

Library Love Fest Interview (podcast)

The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk

Find out more about Canada Reads @ the Library and register here for this fun-filled night of lively debate on March 5 @ 7PM (via Zoom).

From the beloved World Fantasy Award-winning author of Witchmark  comes a sweeping, romantic new fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Regency England, where women’s magic is taken from them when they marry. A sorceress must balance her desire to become the first great female magician against her duty to her family.

Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries-even for love-she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

About the Author

Tor Review

Smart Bitches Trashy Books Review

Lightspeed Magazine Interview

Tor Interview: C.L. Polk and Alyssa Cole

The Fantasy Inn Interview (podcast)

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee

Find out more about Canada Reads @ the Library and register here for this fun-filled night of lively debate on March 5 @ 7PM (via Zoom).

An exhilarating, anti-colonial reclamation of nature writing and memoir, rooted in the forests and flatlands of Taiwan from the winner of the RBC Taylor Prize for Emerging Writers

A chance discovery of letters written by her immigrant grandfather leads Jessica J. Lee to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. There, she seeks his story while growing closer to the land he knew.

Lee hikes mountains home to Formosan flamecrests, birds found nowhere else on earth, and swims in a lake of drowned cedars. She bikes flatlands where spoonbills alight by fish farms, and learns about a tree whose fruit can float in the ocean for years, awaiting landfall. Throughout, Lee unearths surprising parallels between the natural and human stories that have shaped her family and their beloved island. Joyously attentive to the natural world, Lee also turns a critical gaze upon colonialist explorers who mapped the land and named plants, relying on and often effacing the labor and knowledge of local communities.

Two Trees Make a Forest  is a genre-shattering book encompassing history, travel, nature, and memoir, an extraordinary narrative showing how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories.

About the Author

Los Angeles Review of Books

Outside Magazine Review

CBC Sunday Magazine Interview

Hazlitt Interview

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

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Butter Honey Pig Bread is a story of choices and their consequences, of motherhood, of the malleable line between the spirit and the mind, of finding new homes and mending old ones, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.

Francesca Ekwuyasi’s debut novel tells the interwoven stories of twin sisters, Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. Kambirinachi feels she was born an Ogbanje, a spirit that plagues families with misfortune by dying in childhood to cause its mother misery. She believes that she has made the unnatural choice of staying alive to love her human family and now lives in fear of the consequences of that decision.

Some of Kambirinachi’s worst fears come true when her daughter, Kehinde, experiences a devastating childhood trauma that causes the family to fracture in seemingly irreversible ways. As soon as she’s of age, Kehinde moves away and cuts contact with her twin sister and mother. Alone in Montreal, she struggles to find ways to heal while building a life of her own. Meanwhile, Taiye, plagued by guilt for what happened to her sister, flees to London and attempts to numb the loss of the relationship with her twin through reckless hedonism.

Now, after more than a decade of living apart, Taiye and Kehinde have returned home to Lagos to visit their mother. It is here that the three women must face each other and address the wounds of the past if they are to reconcile and move forward.

About the Author

Literary Review of Canada

Hamilton Review of Books 

CBC Sunday Magazine Interview

Them Interview

Canada Reads at the Library

Friday, March 5, 2021
7:00-8:30 p.m.
Online via Zoom

Click here to register for an evening of lively, literary debate!

And now, our panellists and the CBC Canada Reads titles they will be defending:

Check out the Library’s catalogue to access these titles, or support a local bookstore and buy from Audreys Books or Glass Bookshop.

Be part of a fun, stimulating evening, and help us decide what Canada’s Next Great Read will be.

Canada Reads @ the Library: From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

Defended by Celina Loyer

You have to read this Canadian best-selling memoir which has won critical acclaim and numerous prestigious awards, even if you read nothing else this year. 

Should you read this book because it is the brutally honest life journey of Jesse Thistle, a formerly homeless Métis addict? 

Should you read these brief vivid chapters sprinkled with raw lyrical poetry because it’s written by a natural storyteller?

Should you read it because Jesse has suffered addiction, trauma, and loss, but chronicles resilience and redemption with humour and beautiful clarity?

Should you read it because Thistle is now an Assistant Professor in Métis Studies at York University in Toronto, and is both a Vanier and Pierre Elliot Trudeau Scholar?

Should you read it because it’s a first-hand account of growing up Métis in Canada?

Should you read it because the author has literally rewritten the definition of homelessness in Canada? (

Should you read it because Jesse, a self-professed romantic, refers to it as “a quest for love”?


But – 

if you do not know about Métis people, or;
if you don’t get why some kids end up in foster care, or;
if you don’t understand why some people are addicts and homeless, or;
if you haven’t experienced systemic oppression;

You should read From the Ashes because it will stay with you.

Once I began reading, I couldn’t stop until 2 am. As a Métis woman, I was first absorbed, then deeply affected, by his account of how a system set up to save him actually failed him. By intertwining our shared history and the current situation of Indigenous people, Jesse’s stories touch upon my own family’s stories. They are also the stories that Canada needs to hear to understand why so many Métis people end up misunderstood.

Through the struggles of his childhood and dark times of addiction and homelessness, I was touched by Jesse’s ability to make real the truth of how he was saved by love. Through the love of his wife Lucie, he is loved back into the circle of family and community.  His healing is a story of resilience of spirit that made me want to cry with joy. This kind of restoration is a story that any Canadian can appreciate.

Really, you should just read From the Ashes because it’s a damn good book.

It is most definitely the “One Book that Brings Canada into Focus”.

Canada Reads @ the Library: Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Defended by Councillor Jacquie Hansen

Life can be tough for an Indigenous teenager.  This is a story of courage, chance, love and resilience, a “coming-of-age” book.  A must-read for all Canadians. 

By all accounts Jared Marten should have grown up to be a hardened criminal, with a violent nature, in and out of jail. Given his upbringing, he has no business being so caring and compassionate.  He is surrounded by a nasty cast of characters (especially a crazy mother) who love him but use him; his loyalty to them is unwavering but so is his resolve.  

By the time Jared is five years old he knows he is different.  His maternal grandmother calls him a Son of a Trickster because she sees spirits in him.  His mother, Maggie wants him to be tough and hard and makes his life a constant misery. 

Maggie is a heavy substance user with deep mood swings.  She is violent and trusts no one, not her own mother nor Jared’s father: “.. we forget them.  We leave them in the past and we don’t talk about them.” Subsequently,  attachment is hard for Jared.  

One day, Maggie brings a boyfriend home.  David is kind and giving, even clean cut.  He cares about Jared’s school marks and seems to care about Maggie too, until he doesn’t and becomes violent.  At one point, Maggie yells at Jared to nail gun David’s feet to the floor.  Jared cannot do it, so she does.  For a long time, she refuses to speak to Jared holding a grudge because she thinks he’s a wuss. Maggie’s mantra was:  Life is hard, you have to be harder.

Throughout the constant chaos, we see a very caring and compassionate side of Jared. Maggie says: “Jared, you have a big heart, and if you let it lead you around, people are going to use that. Trust me on that, okay?” She is right. 

Jared is a smart kid, but his grades start to fail because his family is a disaster.  To make ends meet and to secretly pay for his Dad’s rent, he bakes and sells pot cookies–that works for a while. He befriends and helps an elderly couple around their home and they become dependent on him.   

Jared starts to drink heavily and it is at this time that spirits begin to visit him.  Is he crazy like his mother? Soon he has a grizzly bear living in his bedroom, sees fireflies hovering, and sees his beloved dead dog Baby come back to life.  Maggie soon realizes that Jared has the gift of spirits and teaches him magic spells that keep the spirits at bay.  Jared’s life is a disaster.  The reader is left wondering if Jared will make it. 

There is one spirit, an old lady affectionately called Monster Aunt. She leads him to a better way and encourages him to stop drinking. Her mantra: Recovery begins with one sober hour.

Maggie hates that Jared is sober and says she wants her son back. 

Sitting there thinking you’re better than me.  You aren’t better than me, you self-righteous prick”. She feels judged, at which point Jared says: “I’m not judging you.  I love you.”

While Maggie’s life continues to spin out of control, Jared keeps loving and protecting her.  His determination, courage and strength are his resolve and finally his life begins to take shape. 

Life is hard…you have to be harder.

Canada Reads @ the Library: We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

Defended by Susie Moloney, EPL Writer-in-Residence

We Have Always Been Here, Samra Habib’s memoir about growing up and growing into being a Queer Muslim Woman is about as Canadian a story as you can get. It’s an immigration story, a spiritual journey, a story about seeing snow for the first time, and about coming into your own identity in Canada’s largest city. Habib walks through her challenges and takes them out of Canada and into the larger, global world, to commune with her Muslim sisters, her Queer sisters, and her Sisters, to gain perspective and to offer her own (there’s also a moment in the memoir where she finds identity in a leather jacket and a great pair of boots that I found particularly relatable). Habib’s story is broad, global, open, new, female, queer, fashionable, and spiritual. That ticks all the boxes on the Canadian BINGO card. We Have Always Been Here should be what Canada Reads, because it’s what Canada aspires to be–a place for everyone. Samra Habib is Canada as we’d like to see ourselves.

Canada Reads @ the Library: Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Defended by Scott Hayes

Radicalized is about all of us in the world right now. It’s more than a bit dystopic yet so much is like holding a mirror up to our society. Cory Doctorow’s book of 4 sci-fi novellas feels so relevant, so relatable, so scary, yet it still has moments of humour and irony and absurdity. That about sums up our life and times, no? If you’ve been paying attention to the news of the world and haven’t felt a little ‘radicalized’ already then reading this book will surely help to make you more aware of the invisible forces that control our lives, and maybe how we can control them back. Maybe.

Honestly, I think it should win the Nobel Prize for prescience and for offering some comfort during our crazy, calamitous COVID-19 times.