Maggie Helwig’s Girls Fall Down
Helwig is the associate director of the Scream Literary Festival and has also written six books of poetry. Her third novel is full of suspense and intensity. Girls Fall Down is about a photographer who tries to capture Toronto as it slips into chaos after a series of unexplained medical outbreaks. Portraying a more chaotic scenario of the city, where discomfort turns to frantic worry and paranoia, Helwig magnifies issues like racism and inequality in order to investigate them thoroughly. The reader also vividly experiences Toronto’s cityscape through the lens of the photographer.
Mark Osbaldeston’s Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City that Might Have Been
Unbuilt Toronto is Osbaldeston’s debut novel; he also practices law and writes architecture reviews. This book gets you thinking about Toronto’s architecture and what could have been built had certain building proposals been accepted. (For instance, there could have been a highway through the Annex, or an entirely different Queen Street.) Osbaldeston encourages the reader to creatively envision a different kind of urban environment, which leaves you with a new-found awareness and appreciation of Toronto’s structure and culture.
Austin Clarke’s More
Clarke is a Barbados-born Canadian citizen. One of the more prolific writers of the five short-listed, he has published 11 novels and won a number of literary prizes. More explores the African Diaspora through the life of a black immigrant woman in Toronto. The main character, a single mother from Barbados, has struggled endlessly to raise her son alone after being abandoned by her husband. She is shattered after hearing that her son has joined a gang, and submerges herself in a flood of memories for the next four days. Through her painful recollection of the suffering involved in coming to Canada, she finds a sense of strength that is both incredibly uplifting and inspiring. Clarke’s illumination of Toronto’s multicultural dynamic and the Kensington Market neighbourhood resonate powerfully.
Anthony De Sa’s Barnacle Love
De Sa is an English professor and Barnacle Love, his first novel, was also short-listed for the 2008 Giller Book Prize. De Sa’s novel is based on his own experiences growing up in Toronto’s Little Portugal with parents who clung to a culture he never fully connected with, an issue very relevant to those born into immigrant families. Following De Sa as a little boy riding his bike around Queen Street, College Street, and the Annex creates a touching picture of what he saw and felt as he ventured out into non-Portuguese communities.
Charles Wilkins’ In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger’s Memoir
Wilkins has published over 12 novels, and this one is also being considered for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, which means people think it is funny. (I most definitely do.) This story is based on Wilkins’ own experiences digging graves as a teenager. It provides a fascinating look into a bizarre reality that’s only believable because the author himself lived it. Mixing the solemnity of death with hilarity, Wilkins’ dry wit allows him to communicate his perspective on the fearful issue of death and the way we deal with it.