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Highway of Tears

Cover image for Highway of Tears by Jessica McDiarmidby Jessica McDiarmid


 “Many of the girls who vanished were not hitchhiking, nor were they sex workers, nor were they doing anything much different than many other young people. But to many of the people living in predominantly white communities, it seemed as though disappearing off the face of the earth was something that happened to other people. And it was, because this is a country where Ramona Wilson was six times more likely to be murdered than me.”

In June 1994, sixteen-year-old Ramona Wilson disappeared from Smithers in a remote part of British Columbia. It was graduation weekend in the small town of about five thousand, and it was several days before her friends and family realized she was gone. It would be nearly a year before someone stumbled upon her remains in the woods near the airport. In that time, two more Indigenous teenage girls were found murdered along the highway that strung together the small communities they called home. Wilson was neither the first nor the last young Indigenous woman to disappear from the area, but for white journalist Jessica McDiarmid, whose focus on human rights abuses and social justice would eventually bring her home to northern British Columbia to tell this story, Wilson’s was the first face on a missing poster that she remembered. For decades, women and girls disappeared along this remote stretch of road, until it earned the Highway of Tears moniker. McDiarmid’s account centres the stories of the missing, and those they left behind, examining the cultural tension between settlers and Indigenous peoples, and between the Indigenous peoples and the colonial police forces charged with both policing those communities and investigating the disappearances and murders that plagued them.

I grew up in Prince George, a city in central British Columbia that marks the eastern end of the stretch of Highway 16 most commonly known as the Highway of Tears. Author Jessica McDiarmid was raised in Smithers, a small, alpine-style village about halfway between Prince George and Prince Rupert, the city that marks the highway’s western terminus at the Pacific Ocean. On the far side of Prince George, the highway carries on eastward, through Jasper and the Rocky Mountains, and on to Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. Some definitions of the Highway of Tears extend to encompass that eastern stretch as well, but the heart of McDiarmid’s story lies on that “lonesome road that runs across a lonesome land” from Prince George to Prince Rupert. This book traversed familiar territory, bringing to life young women who were posters on telephone poles, and faces on the news throughout my childhood.

McDiarmid focuses largely on the missing and murdered Indigenous women who define the typical victim of the Highway of Tears. However, one significant case also covered is that of the white tree planter Nicole Hoar, who disappeared from a gas station at the western edge of Prince George while trying to hitch a ride to Smithers in June 2002. McDiarmid’s account of Hoar’s case highlights the discrepancy in resources, and the importance of the connections of the missing person’s family. Hoar’s case garnered national and international attention precisely because she did not fit the typical victim profile. Her family was well enough off to be able to travel in from out of the province, and spend months searching for her, and advocating her case to the police and media. Her sister worked in communications, and her father’s employer, the Hudson’s Bay Company, helped put up a reward for information about her disappearance. McDiarmid profiles the Hoar case in the middle of the book, and by that point the contrast with the investigations and resources available to the other, Indigenous families is appallingly, starkly clear. Nevertheless, Hoar’s case remains unsolved.

Highway of Tears centres on the missing and murdered indigenous women of this particular British Columbia corridor, but as McDiarmid highlights, the issue is by no means restricted to that region. In the latter part of the book McDiarmid profiles Walk4Justice, a project that collected 3000 names of missing women in a cross country trek from British Columbia to Ottawa in 2008. When the walkers arrived in Ottawa after an eighty-three day journey, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declined to meet with them. The issue is not just British Columbia’s shame, but as advocate Gladys Radek put it, “Canada’s dirtiest secret.”

Highway of Tears is a true crime narrative, but one that does its best to focus on the lives of the victims, and the perspectives of their families, as well as the cultural forces that both placed them in danger, and left their cases largely unsolved. McDiarmid’s familiarity with the region is evident, and her sympathy for the families clear as she synthesizes the stories of so many missing women, from Virginia Sampare who disappeared in 1971 to Mackie Basil who went missing in 2013. Highway of Tears makes for a harrowing read, but one that is essential if we are to understand the complex factors that continue to endanger Indigenous women and girls to this day.

You might also like The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Harper Collins Fall Non-Fiction Preview

I spent last weekend in blazing hot Las Vegas at the American Library Association’s annual conference. Between attending workshops and author signings, I got up bright and early Monday morning to attend the Harper Collins Book Buzz event, since I am a Super Reader for their Voyager imprint. I blogged about their fall fiction catalogue last week, and here’s your sneak peak at the non-fiction list:

Cover image for Tinseltown by William J. MannTinseltown by William J. Mann. Described by the publicist as “The Devil in the White City for Hollywood,” Tinseltown chronicles the rise of the studio system in Roaring Twenties Los Angeles. Author William J. Mann, who has previously written about Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Barbara Streisand, reopens the mystery of the unsolved murder of Motion Picture Directors Association president William Desmond Taylor, drawing on newly released FBI case files. Recommended for fans of Nathanael West and Erik Larson, Tinseltown hits the shelves October 14, 2014.

Cover image for GI Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi. After the United States joined WWII, more than a million American soldiers passed through Britain on their way to the continent. GI Brides follows the lives of four English women who fell in love with some of these men, and moved across the ocean to America, where they began new lives in an unfamiliar culture with husbands they barely knew. Available on September 2, 2014, GI Brides is suggested for fans of The Astronaut Wives Club and The Girls of the Atomic City.

Cover image for A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Matt Richtel takes on the story of Reggie Shaw, a nineteen-year-old college student from Utah whose momentary inattention behind the wheel caused an accident that took the lives of two scientists. This texting-and-driving accident changes Shaw’s life forever, and Richtel follows him through the investigation and court case, to his advocacy for Utah’s distracted driving laws, while also examining the cognitive science behind attention and distraction. Look for A Deadly Wandering in stores on September 23, 2014.

Cover image for The Return of George Washington by Edward J. LarsonThe Return of George Washington by Edward J. Larson. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward J. Larson is the first scholar-in-residence at the new George Washington Presidential Library. Recommended for fans of David McCullough, The Return of George Washington focuses on the period between 1873 and 1879, and Washington’s decision to come out of retirement in order to lead the Constitutional Convention, and eventually become the first President of the United States. Available October 7, 2014.

Cover image for Don't Give Up, Don't Give In by Louis Zamperini and David RensinDon’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin. World War II veteran Louis Zamperini’s story became famous with Laura Hillenbrand’s 2009 bestseller Unbroken, which is now being made into a film directed and produced by Angelina Jolie. After crash landing in the Pacific and surviving days lost at sea, Zamperini spent two years in a Japanese POW camp. This title won’t be for everyone, as it has a strong focus on Zamperini’s Christian faith, but fans of Unbroken won’t want to miss Zamperini’s first book about his own experiences, especially after the author passed away on July 2, 2014. Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In comes out November 18, 2014.

the-wild-truthThe Wild Truth by Carine McCandless. Chris McCandless’ life and death in the Alaskan wilderness became famous with Jon Krakauer’s 1996 bestseller Into the Wild. Sean Penn reignited interest in 2007 with his film of the same name. In The Wild Truth, Chris’ sister Carine McCandless shares the dysfunctional childhood that gives context to her brother’s unbelievable decision to give away his savings, and disappear into the wilderness on  a journey of self discovery. Available October 21, 2014.

These and a number of other interesting-looking non-fiction titles will be available from Harper Collins this fall. Check back next week to hear about some of the great fall titles coming from other publishers in 2014.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween folks! This year’s  book’0’lantern is based on one of my current reads, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater:









Last year’s pumpkin featured The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern:









Here are some spooky and/or supernatural reads for the holiday:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown

Spellcaster by Claudia Gray

The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

Required Reading First Birthday Giveaway!

birthday01As of October 18th, I’ve been blogging at Required Reading for an entire year! I’ve racked up over 100 posts, including 88 reviews, and a variety of other book-related posts, from author events to travel. To celebrate this milestone, I’m hosting a giveaway of one of the best books I’ve read since I started the blog, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This is a signed first edition,  ISBN 978-0-06-228022-0.


Cover image for The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanThe contest is a Rafflecopter giveaway with several ways to enter to win. The contest is only open to readers in Canada or the United States (sorry international readers; shipping is expensive!). Full terms and conditions can be found at Rafflecopter. The contest closes on October 30, 2013 at 12:00am ET. May the odds be ever in your favour! Thanks for reading.

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Waiting on Wednesday: The First Midnight Spell

the-first-midnight-spellBack in March, I reviewed Spellcaster by Claudia Gray, and blogged about my theories for Steadfast, which is due out in March 2014. But in the interim, Claudia will be releasing a Spellcaster novella, The First Midnight Spell, which is a  prequel to the series. Those who have read Spellcaster will be interested to get a bit more background on Elizabeth Cooper. I think that will do nicely to tide me over until Steadfast arrives in March!

If you haven’t read Spellcaster yet, there is still time to get caught up before The First Midnight Spell is released on November 5, or you could start with the prequel and go from there. Spellcaster is the story of Nadia, a witch in training who loses her mentor just as she moves to a new town where magic seems to have gone wrong.

waiting-on-wednesdayWaiting on Wednesday is a bookish meme hosted by the folks over at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. What are you waiting for?