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The Chat with Governor General's Award Winner Sarah Henstra


Over the next few weeks, we’ll be in conversation with all of this year’s English-language Governor General’s Award winners. We begin our special #GGBooks series chatting with Sarah Henstra, author of the novel The Red Word.

The jury called the book "Groundbreaking and provocative ... this is an astonishing evisceration of the clichés of sexual politics as they exist not only on our college campuses, but also within broader present-day society. Alternately heartbreaking, funny, and critical, no one gets off easily. The Red Word plumbs the depths of literature, mythology, history, philosophy, and a host of contemporary issues—an utterly effing good read."

Sarah Henstra is an Associate Professor of English literature at Ryerson University. She is the author of Mad Miss Mimic, an historical tale for young adults, and We Contain Multitudes, slated for publication in 2019. The Red Word is her first work of adult fiction. Sarah grew up in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and now lives in Toronto.



Trevor Corkum: The Red Word is described as “smart, dark, and take-no-prisoners look at rape culture.” Can you talk more about the creation of the novel?

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The Recommend for September 2018

Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we run this series, The Recommend, where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This week we're pleased to present the picks of Sarah Selecky, author of Radiant Shimmering Light; Jennifer Robson, author of the forthcoming The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding; Alix Hawley, author of My Name Is a Knife; Deborah Willis, author of The Dark and Other Love Stories; and Kerry Clare, author of Mitzi Bytes. IMPORTANT NOTE: This week's recommendations are part of a larger series launched in 2017 where we asked 150 Canadian authors to recommend 150 Canadian books. It's pretty awesome, so do check it out!


Sarah Selecky recommends Sarah Henstra's Mad Miss Mimic

Readers of adult literary fiction might not have heard about this lovely book, because it’s officially published as teen and YA fiction. I recommend it to older readers, too! I loved getting lost in this subtle thriller about London in the 1870s, when the city was experiencing violent terror attacks and opium fever. This historical page-turner has everything: compelling characters, a love story, …

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The Recommend: April 2018

Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we run this series, The Recommend, where writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This month we're pleased to present the picks of Shawna Lemay (The Flower Can Always Be Changing), Andrew Battershill (Marry, Bang, Kill), Claudia Dey (Heartbreaker), Elinor Florence (Wildwood), and Sarah Henstra (The Red Word).


Shawna Lemay picks Nicole Brossard’s Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon

It’s difficult to say precisely how well known an author is but it seems fair to say that Nicole Brossard should be much more appreciated. Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon is virtuosic, a work of art, in the way that Virginia Woolf’s books are art. Two women meet at a hotel bar every night and talk. One of the women is trying to finish her novel, and the other catalogues artefacts at a museum. They enter into a dialogue that is both shifting and solid, detached and intensely engaged. One of the characters asks, “What is the value of a question in a dialogue? How important are the answers?”

The shape and the construction of the book is something Woolf surely would have ap …

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Sarah Henstra on The Red Word

Lauded by no less than Tom Perrotta as "the smartest, most provocative novel I’ve read in a long time," The Red Word is Sarah Henstra's second fiction title (after her acclaimed YA debut Mad Miss Mimic), a campus novel set in the 1990s whose politics and preoccupations evoke our current zeitgeist. In many ways The Red Word is a #Me Too book, but its questions are much larger than a hashtag and Henstra has readers grappling with complicated questions about rape culture, culpability, and justice—all the while delivering a gorgeously written novel that's really hard to put down. 


49th Shelf: It’s always kind of funny when a book is declared as “timely” because it takes years to make a book, and I imagine this one has been in the works for a long time. Could you talk about your own timeline in terms of writing and your road to publication? How timely is this book really?

Sarah Henstra: That’s true! "Timely" makes it sound like one day you take a look at what’s blowing up Twitter and say "Oh yeah, gonna sit down a sec and write a novel about that." What a terrible plan that would be! Even if by some miracle you write it really fast (which I did not), and get it perfect right out of the gate (which I did not), novels take forever to come into print via …

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Authors for Indies: It's This Saturday!

Authors for Indies is an upcoming event where Canadian writers go into our country's indie bookstores on May 2 to handsell books to customers. Not just May 2—MAY 2 THIS SATURDAY! Find out where the nearest Author for Indies bookstore is for you right here.

The Avid Reader bookstore in Cobourg, Ontario, is lucky to have authors Wayne Johnston, Allison Baggio, Sarah Henstra, and Plum Johnson as volunteers on Saturday—and we're lucky to have a sneak peek at what they'll be recommending. This, right here, could fuel a brilliant reading year for just about anyone.




Wayne Johnston, author of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and more, will be recommending Alistair MacLeod's The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and Robertson Davies' Fifth Business.

The Lost Salt Gift of Blood, one of Canada's most enduring classics, was last recommended on 49th Shelf by Michael Petrou, who wrote that it is in this book that MacLeod's writing is at its "most evocative, limpid, and heart-wrenching."

And you can see just a fraction of the ways Fifth Business has made its mark by scr …

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Cover Reveal! Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra

Thanks to the folks at Razorbill Canada for their exclusive share of Sarah Henstra's debut novel, Mad Miss Mimic, which goes on sale in May. We're very excited about this book, and look forward to featuring Sarah on 49th Shelf when the book is published. But in the meantime, can we just take a moment to marvel at this excellent cover? 


Are you ready? 

Really ready? 

Check it out.

The cover for Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra. 



About the book:

London, 1872. 17-year-old heiress Leonora Somerville is preparing to be presented to upper class society—again. A curious speech disorder causes her to stutter and also allows her to imitate other people's voice flawlessly. Servants and ladies alike call her "Mad Miss Mimic" behind her back and watch as Leo unintentionally scares off one potential husband after another. That is, until  her brother-in-law's new business partner, Francis Thornfax, arrives. Successful, forthright, and devastatingly handsome, Thornfax seems immune to gossip about Leo's madness. But their courtship is endangered from the start. The mysterious Black Glove opium gang is setting off explosions across the city. The street urchins are dying of overdoses. And then there is Tom Rampling, the working-class boy Leo can't seem to get out of her …

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