Cover image for Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

by R.F. Kuang

ISBN 9780063250833

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“Athena had a magpie’s eye for suffering. This skill united all her best-received works. She could see through the grime and sludge of facts and details to the part of the story that bled. She collected true narratives like seashells, polished them off, and presented them, sharp and gleaming, to horrified and entranced readers.”

Writers June Hayward and Athena Liu have a casual friendship that dates back to college but is made up more of convenience than true affinity. While Athena has shot to popular fame and critical acclaim, June’s debut novel tanked, and she has no idea what to write next. That is, until Athena chokes to death right in front of her after a drunken night on the town to celebrate a film deal, and June steals the first draft of Athena’s new manuscript, a historical fiction novel about the Chinese Labour Corps in World War I. June rewrites Athena’s draft and publishes it under the deceptive new pen name Juniper Song. The Last Front wins June all the publishing accolades she ever dreamed of, but with fame comes haters, including one anonymous online troll who seems to know the truth about what June has done.

June is the definition of an unreliable, unlikeable narrator. She is a master of self-justification, and every time she gets her way it only reinforces her notion that her actions are acceptable, even righteous. She capitalizes on the death of her friend and uses Athena’s reputation as a shield against accusations of cultural appropriation, as well as to cover up her plagiarism. While we don’t see the theft itself on page, we know one thing about June Hayward: in the moments after her friend choked to death in front of her, she still had the presence of mind to go into Athena’s office and take her manuscript.

Yellowface can be an at times maddening read filled with cringeworthy moments of nice white liberal racism taken to the satirical extreme, which June is constantly explaining away or ignoring. While it does not have the overt violence of The Poppy War or even Babel, the cuts come small and fast and sharp. June believes that Athena’s work, while good, isn’t any better than hers, but that the diversity card rocketed Athena to fame while June’s debut novel sank. Yet if that were the case, why would The Last Front by Juniper Song be so successful? Riding the wave of Athena’s stolen success, this is not a question June seems to have the ability to contemplate. She is simply living the life to which she felt she was always entitled; it belongs rightfully to her. She has no capacity to question that entitlement.

Kuang does not sugar coat the dark parts of the publishing industry, but rather showcases them warped even darker through the bitter lens of June’s attempts to understand why her own work hasn’t found its audience. The visceral struggle of writing under the pressure of outside expectations is also on display, creating a nauseating tension between the discomfort of reading about June’s writer’s block in the aftermath of The Last Front, and the vengeful desire to see her fail and be exposed for the thief that she is. And June is not the only victim of the online discourse that The Last Front sparks. Soon Athena’s legacy is being tarnished as well, and an assistant at June’s publisher loses her job over her criticisms of The Last Front.

The novel showcases a false, toxic friendship poisoned in the seed by jealousy and a competitive mindset. Early in the novel, June expresses her puzzlement at the fact that Athena keeps reaching out to her even though June has no clout, popularity, or connections to offer her in return and make their friendship worth Athena’s while. The fact that June thinks of relationships this way is telling, and it is notable that throughout the story, she has no other real friends, confidants, or romantic connections beyond the barest possible hint of sexual tension between June and Athena in a drunken moment where June hopes Athena might kiss her. Isolated, the only explanation June can come up with is that Athena was keeping her around as a lowly punching bag, a companion who she never has to fear will outstrip her. June, on the other hand, cannot even mentor a young writer without worrying that the girl will one day surpass her.

Around the edges, however, we do get hints of Athena’s humanity, and that she was not the publishing industry’s perfect golden girl. Beyond June’s bitter jealousy and irrational dislike, the question of who gets to write what belongs not just to Juniper Song and The Last Front, but to Athena’s own writing about Korean war veterans, rape survivors, and other experiences that did not belong to her but which she mined in her work. In death, Athena is the victim of theft, but in life it seems she may have hurt others in the single-minded pursuit of her craft, even at the expense of her own relationships. In the wake of her death, no friend, family member, or colleague seems to have really known what Athena was working on, a fact that June exploits. In this lies the deeper hint that their greatest commonality was not being writers, but their mutual loneliness.

Towards the end of the book, with no idea what to write next, June decides to try to take her own scandal and fictionalize it, further complicating the public narrative. But as she writes, she finds herself unable to draft a satisfying conclusion to the tale. “I’ve written myself into a corner,” she laments. “The first two thirds of the book were a breeze to compose, but what do I do with the ending? Where do I leave my protagonist, now that there’s a hungry ghost in the mix, and no clear resolution?” Funnily enough, this is a problem that Yellowface also encounters. Frustrating as the ending is, it raises the question: would a woman like June Hayward ever really face justice? Or would scandal only feed her parasitic career?

Also by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War

The Dragon Republic

The Burning God


Not sure what to read next? Request a recommendation!

Fiction, Romance, Young Adult

I Love You So Mochi

Cover image for I Love You So Mochi by Sarak Kuhn

by Sarah Kuhn

ISBN 9781338302882

“The thing is, the perfection of my parents’ relationship, the fact that they’ve been through so much together and can still look at each other like that, makes me feel like I have to get love exactly right on the first try. Like they did. I know they want something like what they have for me, just like my mom wants me to be able to achieve all my dreams as an artist.”

Artist Kimiko Nakamura lives in her own head; her perfectionistic tendencies make it hard for her to take action and face a reality that is less perfect than her imagination. For months, Kimi has been unable to paint a thing, despite the fact her family is celebrating her acceptance to the prestigious Liu Academy for college. She’s even dropped out of her senior art class without telling her mom, who is a notable Japanese American artist herself. After a particularly bad fight with her mom about her future, Kimi decides to accept an unexpected invitation to spend her spring break in Japan with her mother’s estranged parents. Maybe in Kyoto she’ll find herself and her path forward.

Kimi knows she is lucky not to be facing the typical pressures to become a doctor or a lawyer, but the pressure to live up to her mother’s artistic legacy has become just as stifling in its own way. Worse, Kimi knows how much her mom gave up in order to become an artist, destroying her relationship with her own parents along the way. The more the pressure builds, the more Kimi escapes into her distractions, sketching fashion and making quirky clothes out of unusual materials instead of working on her painting. Creating Kimi Originals in the form of a fashion is free from expectations, while her other art has become fraught and no longer enjoyable. She finds it increasingly hard to believe that she ever enjoyed painting. She finds much more joy in handcrafting a Starburst dress for one of her best friends in order to help her work up the courage to ask out the girl she has a crush on.

Kimi doesn’t speak Japanese, but fortunately for her both her grandparents and the boy she meets in the park on her first day in Kyoto speak English. Akira’s lifelong dream is to become a doctor, but he is helping his uncle with his mochi business until the fall. (It is not explained why his school year would begin in the autumn when the Japanese school year generally begins in April.) Between his shifts at the mochi stand, and Kimi’s time with her grandparents, they take a picturesque, touristy romp around Kyoto during cherry blossom season, stumbling into first love, and then being immediately faced with the fact that Kimi’s time in Japan is nearly as fleeting as the sakura season. 

Narrated in the first person, with occasionally epistolary elements in the form of letters back home to her mother, I Love You so Mochi is a cute romance about finding yourself in the midst of family pressures and expectations. In Japan, Kimi learns more about the complexities of her mother’s childhood and the eventual estrangement that preceded her birth. While she bonds quickly with her grandfather, her grandmother proves a harder nut to crack, so seeing them eventually begin to understand one another was perhaps the most affecting part of the story. Slowly but surely, Kimi is feeling her way towards a path that might bring her family back together, while also allowing her to forge her own way into the future.

You might also like Asian YA Fantasy and Romance Mini-Reviews

Not sure what to read next? Request a recommendation!

Fiction, Romance, Urban Fantasy

Wings Once Cursed and Bound

Cover image for Wings Once Cursed and Bound by Piper J. Drake

by Piper J. Drake

ISBN 9781492683865

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“He wasn’t wrong, just infuriating. She wasn’t going to give him any kind of gratification by letting him know he was pushing her buttons. Any of her buttons.”

Peeraphan Rhattana should have known to be suspicious when her competitive cousin Surin handed her a pair of beautiful red dancing shoes instead of claiming them for herself. Having put the shoes on and danced in them, now Peeraphan can’t remove them. But the curse of the red shoes does bring something into her life Peeraphan has always longed for: proof of the existence of supernatural beings other than herself. Unfortunately, at least one of the creatures that shows up to the theatre to watch Peeraphan dance in the cursed shoes is hoping to see her die a gruesome death.

Vampire Bennett Andrews, on the other hand, doesn’t want to see Peeraphan die, but unfortunately, he arrived at the theatre too late to prevent her from putting them on. All he can do is wait, and hope to prevent any future victims by spiriting the shoes away once Peeraphan has danced herself to death. No one is more surprised than Bennett when Peeraphan appears to have some ability to resist the pull of the cursed shoes. Instead of retrieving the shoes from her corpse, Bennett takes Peeraphan back to the Darke Consortium, a secret society that tries to remove harmful magical objects from human hands (or feet, as the case may be). But unless they can find a way to break the curse, it is only a matter of time before the shoes drain her strength and find a way to send Peeraphan to an early death.

Wings Once Cursed and Bound is an urban fantasy set in and around current day Seattle, where author Piper J. Drake also resides. The point of view alternates between Peeraphan and Bennett, with a few chapters from the other members of the Darke Consortium, including Thomas the werewolf, and Marie, the Consortium’s witch-in-residence. Bennett is your typical dark and brooding vampire protagonist who has decided to feed only on evil men, eschewing the blood of innocents. He has kept his feelings closed off since the death of his human partner, Victoria, who died of old age having chosen not to attempt to join him in immortality. His attraction to Peeraphan is involuntary, and at times felt more dictated by the necessity of the plot than his own character.

Peeraphan is a throwback born into a family of humans who can tell her old Thai myths, but they don’t know anything about what it means to actually be kinnaree, one of the magical bird people of legend. As a result, the reader does not get much to work with in this regard, either. The full extent of her power is something Peeraphan will have to discover for herself, but in order to do that she’ll need to finally come to terms with the fact that however hard she tries, she just isn’t human. The story takes place over only a few days, during which time Peeraphan and Bennett fall in love and decide to become partners, pulling Peeraphan deeper into supernatural society and the possibility of finding a place for herself.

Wings Once Cursed and Bound is set up as the start of a series, with Peeraphan poised to become the glue that turns the Darke Consortium from an alliance into a family. With Peeraphan and Bennet’s relationship established, I’m hoping perhaps the sequel will follow up on the promising scene between Marie and two fox spirits she encounters towards the end of the book.

You might also like:

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Not sure what to read next? Request a recommendation!

Fiction, Young Adult

Mini Reviews: In Translation

My book club is following along with KCLS’s 10 to Try challenge, which aims to expand reader horizons. This month’s theme was “In Translation.” Check out two of the titles I picked up, both originally published in Japanese!

Shuna’s Journey

Cover image for Shuna's Journey by Hayao Miyazaki

by Hayao Miyazaki

Translated by Alex Dudok de Wit

ISBN 9781250846525

Prince Shuna’s people live hardscrabble lives, working themselves to the bone for an ever more meagre harvest. When a dying traveler tells Shuna of a legendary distant land with endless fields of plump, golden grain, Shuna travels west in search of the source of this bountiful crop. Along the way, he rescues Thea and her sister, who have been sold into slavery, before continuing his journey to the Land of the God-Folk and discovering the source of the golden grain. Originally published in Japan in 1983, about two years before the founding of Studio Ghibli, this early work from animation master Hayao Miyazaki was released in English for the first time in 2022. Based on a Tibetan folktale about the origins of the barley crop, Shuna’s Journey is akin to the environmental stories Miyazaki tells in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Princess Mononoke (1997). The illustrated watercolour story seems to contain all the seeds of Miyazaki’s signature style and themes, including several elements that appear directly in his later films. For Miyazaki fans, this provides a fascinating glimpse into his nascent style.

How Do You Live?

Cover image for How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino

by Genzaburo Yoshino

Translated by Bruno Navasky

ISBN 9781616209773

Following the death of his father, junior high student Honda Jun’ichi, known to his friends and family as Copper, finds himself drawn into philosophical questions about the meaning of life and how to live well in pre-war Japan. How Do You Live? is a thoughtful, slow-paced novel about a fifteen-year-old boy, his misfit group of friends, and the uncle who has made it his mission to guide Copper’s intellectual and philosophical development through letters and conversation. This didactic novel for young people was originally published in Japan in 1937 by a political dissident who couched his ethics and philosophy in a storybook at a time when it was illegal to publish criticisms of Japan’s increasingly militaristic government. How Do You Live? was translated into English for the first time in 2022 in anticipation of its use as the source material for Hayao Miyazaki’s forthcoming, and supposedly final, animated feature, which may be released this summer in Japan. A Japanese classic from Miyazaki’s youth, and resonant with the themes of many of his other works, I look forward to seeing how he adapts this story from the perspective of someone who grew up in post-war Japan.

You might also like Himawari House by Harmony Becker

Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Fiction

Heart of the Sun Warrior (Celestial Kingdom #2)

Cover image for Heart of the Sun Warrior by Sue Lynn Tan

by Sue Lynn Tan

ISBN 9780063031364

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“I trust that you do not want me dead. At least, not yet. When we want different things—that is the moment when trust really matters, when its true worth shines.”

Xingyin has won freedom for her mother, the moon goddess Chang’e but at the terrible price of incurring the wrath of the Celestial Emperor for outwitting him with the dragon pearls. With her spiritual power depleted, Xingyin returns home to the moon to recover under her mother’s care and heal her broken heart. But her quick recovery from her battle injuries reveals that the moon harbours a magic of its own, one that will draw unwelcome attention and challengers now that it is no longer forbidden to outsiders. Driven from their home and forced to seek allies in the far reaches of the Immortal Realms, Xingyin and her mother face an uncertain future and difficult choices about what loyalty they owe to the Celestial Kingdom.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess read well as a standalone adventure but left the love triangle between Xingyin, Liwei, and Wenzhi unresolved. In Heart of the Sun Warrior, Xingyin has rejected both men, and returned to the moon to live peacefully with her mother and Ping-er. However, now that Chang’e nominally has her freedom, other immortals can also visit the Moon Palace, and their machinations threaten to draw Xingyin and her family back into the distant intrigues of the court. Soon Xingyin is in mortal peril once more, facing the wrath of the Celestial Emperor. Worse, Liwei’s attempts to shield her have imperiled his own position and perhaps upset the entire balance of power in their realm.

Xingyin is still grappling with her feelings for both men, each of them having betrayed her in their own way. Family loyalties weigh strongly, and with all their identities revealed the history between their families only becomes of greater significance in the sequel. Liwei has laid everything on the line for her, but Xingyin grows increasingly doubtful that she can ever endure the life at court that marriage to him would entail. And while her feelings for the demon prince Wenzhi have never entirely abated, nor does she feel she can ever forgive him. Though her physical wounds have healed and the well of her spiritual power has been replenished, a broken heart is not so quick to mend.

While much of the plot centers around interpersonal relationships and questions of duty and forgiveness, the action comes from a challenge for the throne of the Celestial Kingdom. Liwei’s position as heir is no longer unassailable and there are many who fear he will still marry Xingyin even though she has not accepted his proposal. While she has little reason to trust Wenzhi, he is also no friend of the Celestial Kingdom, and as tensions rise Xingyin finds that he is a necessary ally if she and her family are to survive. Meanwhile, Wenzhi is bent on showing Xingyin that he regrets his past actions and will never hurt her again. But it is a long journey from reluctant ally back to friendship let alone love. Nor is Liwei willing to give Xingyin up, despite her reservations about life at court.

There is a lot going on in this sequel, from a power grab for the throne to the love triangle to the deaths of several beloved side characters to a reveal about Xingyin’s father, the mortal archer Houyi. It was at times a struggle to keep all these threads balanced, and in particular I felt like Houyi received short shrift in a book that draws its title from his character. But if you need to know where Xingyin chooses to bestow her heart, then Heart of the Sun Warrior is for you.

You might also like:

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

If You Could See the Sun

Cover image for If You Could See the Sun by Ann Liang

by Ann Liang

ISBN 9781335915849

“God, I hate him. I hate him and his flawless, porcelain skin and immaculate uniform and his composure, as untouchable and unfailing as his ever-growing list of achievements. I hate the way people look at him and see him, even if he’s completely silent, head down and working at his desk.”

As the only scholarship student at her elite Beijing international school, Alice Sun feels invisible. After several years at Airington, she knows everyone but is friends with no one. Even as a star student, she is constantly having to share her moments in the spotlight with Henry Li, heir to one of China’s largest tech companies. Henry is everything Alice wishes she could be: smart, effortlessly poised, and never, ever invisible. Then Alice begins turning involuntarily and actually invisible at unexpected moments just as her parents break the news that they can no longer afford to pay the fifty percent of her tuition that her scholarship does not cover. Desperate to keep her place at the school and the future that it promises, Alice comes up with a plan to sell her invisibility services to her classmates. Soon the tasks begin to escalate, forcing her to confront what she is willing to do—who she is willing to hurt—in order to stay.

If You Could See the Sun is a guaranteed pick for fans of an enemies/academic rivals to accomplices to lovers dynamic. In a perfectly delicious “I didn’t know where else to go” moment, Alice turns to Henry for help with her invisibility problem. With no clue how to stop the episodes of invisibility, Alice instead strikes on the idea of monetizing them, with Henry using his programming skills to create an app that will help anonymously sell her services. As they team up, Alice begins to realize that Henry might not quite hate her the same way she always thought she hated him. Worse, Henry might just be a genuinely good person. The fantasy element of invisibility is introduced largely as a metaphor for Alice’s feelings, and to explore her character and motivations. It is not explained or solved, and I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone looking for strong fantasy world building about how or why her powers work—or sometimes don’t.

As a protagonist, Alice is emotionally messy, single-minded, and not particularly likeable. It is for this reason, however, that it is necessary for her to be the point-of-view character. In order to understand her questionable actions, we need to be inside that twisting seethe of emotions and warped self-worth that leads her step-by-step down a dark path as the Beijing Ghost. As Alice herself notes, “here at Airington, there are many different tickets to respect—talent, beauty, wealth, charm, family connections… But kindness is not one of them.” If You Could See the Sun delves down deep into the dark depths of her insecurities in ways that are not always pleasant.

As the reputation of Beijing Ghost grows, the tasks Alice is asked to perform grow increasingly serious, and the paydays increase proportionally. Soon Alice is thinking not just of staying at Airington but paying her way through university as well. Secrets are currency, particularly in a world where the people surrounding Alice have all the money they could ever need. And with her power of invisibility, Alice can now turn secrets into money. Money she desperately needs if she wants to stay at Airington until graduation and relieve her parents of the heavy burden of paying for her education. However, working as the Beijing Ghost gives Alice a peek beneath the surface of the seemingly perfect, privileged lives of her classmates. From a girl whose ex-boyfriend is threatening to share her sexts to a classmate who believes her father is cheating on her mother with a younger woman, her peers turn out to have a lot of problems she could never have guessed at. And as she gets to know Henry, Alice realizes just how much pressure he is under as well.

You might also like An Arrow to the Moon by Emily X.R. Pan

Canada Reads

Canada Reads Along 2023: Recap

Canada Reads 2023 has come to a close, with Jeopardy superstar Mattea Roach championing Ducks by Kate Beaton to victory, in the finale against Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, defended by actor Michael Greyeyes. Beaton’s graphic memoir of her time in the oil sands faced some staunch opposition along the way to victory, including some panelists struggling with the comic format, the blur of the quickly changing cast of characters, and the lack of focus on indigenous perspectives.

Roach argued that the graphic format, while new to many readers, made the heavy subject matter more accessible, and that the story’s transregional nature would appeal to a broad range of Canadians. The theme this year was “one book to shift your perspective,” and Roach set out to shift the country’s perspective on an entire medium. Jeff Lemire’s Essex County is the only other graphic novel to ever feature on Canada Reads, and it was eliminated on the first day of competition all the way back in 2010.

The Canada Reads team followed the tradition of calling the winning author after the final vote, and Kate Beaton used her air time to speak to the ongoing impact the oil sands are having on the indigenous communities of Northern Alberta.

With Canada Reads finished for this year, what should you read next?

The Canada Reads Longlist

While five titles were featured on this year’s debates, there were ten other titles on the 2023 Canada Reads longlist. Personally, I have my eye on the novel Dandelion by Jamie Chai Yun Liew, and Simu Liu’s memoir We Were Dreamers about his journey into Hollywood. I’ve also made the full 2023 longlist into a Goodreads list and a Storygraph list if you’d like to to add them to your virtual shelves!

If This, Then That

Cover image for The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

If your favourite book on Canada Reads this year was Ducks, try Patti LaBoucane-Benson’s graphic novel The Outside Circle, with art by Kelly Mellings. Pete is a young Aboriginal man wrapped up in the gang life, struggling to support his younger brother Joey, and his mother Bernice, who is addicted to heroin. When a fight with his mother’s boyfriend sends Pete to jail, he discovers how illusive his crew’s loyalty really is. Eventually, time served and good behaviour gets Pete admitted to a traditional aboriginal healing centre in Edmonton, where the program aims to help First Nations people process their history. There Pete must face the many ways he has failed his family and himself .

Cover image for Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz

If you were rooting for Station Eleven, check out the prescient pandemic novel Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz. Written between 2013 and 2019, the novel begins in the summer of 2020 when New York City police officer Elliot Howe finds himself in quarantine after he learns that he was exposed to a novel coronavirus that becomes known as ARAMIS. While Elliot is quarantined, the rabid hunt begins for ARAMIS Girl, a young Asian woman falsely believed to be patient zero for the outbreak. The novel also follows Owen Grant, a writer who is reluctantly drawn into the spotlight because he wrote a novel that seemed to predict the ARAMIS outbreak, and Emma Aslet, a singer-songwriter who is planning an ARAMIS relief fundraiser while she is expecting her first child.

Cover image for Certain Dark Things by Silvia Morena-Garcia

If you were enraptured by Mexican Gothic, try Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s earlier novel, Certain Dark Things. Morena-Garcia has a special talent for making a genre her own, and in Certain Dark Things she takes on the vampire novel. Domingo is a street kid who scrapes by as a junk collector on the streets of Mexico City, one of the few vampire-free zones in a world that learned in 1967 that vampires are all too real. Domingo is fascinated by the pop-culture lore of these creatures, but he has never seen one until Atl drops into his life. The scion of a powerful northern narco-clan, Atl is on the run after a disastrous clash with a rival clan. Sneaking into Mexico City is risky, but she needs to buy the papers that will allow her to escape to South America. Atl wants to get in and get out quickly and quietly, but she needs a source of blood that will not draw suspicion or attention.

Cover image for What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

If your top pick was Hotline, you might also like What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad. This short but powerful novel follows a little boy named Amir, a Syrian refugee who washes ashore on an island where refugees are unwelcome. When he follows his uncle down to the docks late one night, Amir finds himself aboard a smuggler’s ship bound across the sea. On board that ill-fated ship are many passengers with disparate hopes for the future, if only they can get to a better place. When the ship sinks in a storm, Amir meets fifteen-year-old Vanna, a resident of one of the islands that the migrants try so desperately to reach. Pursued by the local authorities, Amir and Vanna go on the run, but tiny islands keep no secrets and have very few places to hide.

Cover image for The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant

If you were hoping for Greenwood to win, pick up The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant. This is the true story of the ancient tree that became known as K’iid K’iyass, or the golden spruce, a giant that stood on the banks of the Yakoun River in Haida Gwaii until 1997, when it was felled in a protest against the logging industry. Part history and part post-mortem of the murder of a culturally significant icon of the Haida people, John Vaillant documents the history of tree, the troubled life of the man who destroyed it, and the impact of this act on the community that was its home.

Past Canada Reads Winners

If you’re new to Canada Reads, there’s also a long and rich list of past winners to choose from. Some of my favourites have included Kim Thuy’s poetic novel Ru, which won in 2015; The Illegal which won in 2016, making author Lawrence Hill the only two-time winner to date; and We Have Always Been Here, a memoir by Samra Habib which won in 2020.

Canada Reads has been running for 22 years, so you can find the full list of past winners on the CBC website, or check out my reviews of the winners dating back to 2013.

See you next year Canada Reads fans!

Canada Reads, Canadian, Fiction

Canada Reads Along 2023: Greenwood

Cover image for Greenwood by Michael Christie

by Michael Christie


“If history were itself a book, this era would surely be the last chapter, wouldn’t it? Or have all ages believed this? That life can’t possibly go on and that these are the end times?”

Jacinda “Jake” Greenwood studies trees, in a dying world that has far too few trees left. It’s 2038, and the Great Withering has destroyed most of the Earth’s forests. One of the rare exceptions is Greenwood Island, a private resort off the coast of British Columbia that enjoys a unique microclimate which has thus far protected it from the ravages of global warming. Jake shares a name with the island, a fact she always believed to be a coincidence—she is little more than an overqualified tour guide for wealthy vacationers. But as her family tree is peeled back ring by ring, Michael Christie reveals her surprising connection to the Greenwood Timber Greenwoods, lumber barons who made their fortune in the early 20th century. The story follows the intervening generations through the century as Canada’s timber industry rises and falls.

Greenwood is a multi-generational family saga that begins with orphans Harris and Everett Greenwood. From a meagre plot of woods in Ontario, Harris goes on to found Greenwood Timber, a titan of the forest industry than Christie slips in alongside the real companies that inspired it. But Harris’ daughter, Willow, rejects her father’s fortune and becomes an environmental crusader known for her direct-action protests. She in turn is appalled by her son Liam’s decision to become a carpenter, gobbling up wood to satisfy the appetites of rich corporate clients. But none of that success can save Liam from the accident that leaves his daughter an orphan. Likeable and unlikeable, each generation’s relationship to the land tells a broader story about how Canada relates to its natural environment, and the resources we have long taken for granted.

Michael Christie takes the reader through the Dust Bowl and into a future that imagines a Great Withering that echoes it, once again brought about by the consequences of human actions. Greenwood largely reads like historical fiction but with a dystopian frame narrative set in the near future. The bulk of the novel is not set in the future but focuses on the past choices that brought the Greenwood Island resort into being. Covered in old-growth forest inspired by Galiano Island, the trees of Greenwood Island are much older than the family whose name it continues to bear long after they relinquish ownership. Intact nature becomes a valuable commodity sold to the elite as a high-end vacation experience while average citizens live in a world wracked by dust and lung disease. It is a near future that feels all too possible, wrapped in a history that resonates with familiarity.

Greenwood is defended by actor and film maker Keegan Connor Tracy on Canada Reads 2023, airing March 27-30 on CBC. The theme this year is one book to shift your perspective.

“It is a cautionary tale about how we have used our natural resources and how we will use them in the future, which is something that I think we really need to face as Canadians.” – Keegan Connor Tracy

You might also like:

And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier (trans. Rhonda Mullins)

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee