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The Space Between

Books that challenge binary and complicate matters in the most interesting and useful ways.  

For most of the country, April sits in an uncertain place between winter and spring, too often rushed through, but which is also a fascinating destination in its own right with the beginning of so much unfolding—at least once the snow melts. So we're pausing here for a moment to consider books that similarly inhabit places in between, resulting in this rich and diverse list that spans genres.  


Book Cover Through Not Allowed

Through Not Around: Stories of Infertility and Pregnancy Loss, edited by Allison McDonald Ace, Ariel Ng Bourbonnais, and Caroline Starr

About the book: Infertility and pregnancy loss can be devastating, yet both are often private sorrows for the one in six people who cope with the experience. This collection offers personal stories about what it's like to go through the emotional and physical facets of infertility, miscarriage, and pregnancy loss: the pain, sadness, and desperation, the hope, humour, and frustration.

Through, Not Around offers reassurance to those in the midst of their own struggles that they are not alone and that it is possible to find acceptance and strength on the other side of grief. The way forward is by going through the grief, not around it.

Why we're taking notice: Navigating that many-woman's land between childlessness and parenthood, these essays not only feature many different facets of pregnancy loss and infertility, but they have great literary value, and will show readers that they're not alone. 


Book Cover Immigrant City

Immigrant City, by David Bezmozgis

About the book: In the title story, a father and his young daughter stumble into a bizarre version of his immigrant childhood. A mysterious tech conference brings a writer to Montreal where he discovers new designs on the past in “How it Used to Be.” A grandfather’s Yiddish letters expose a love affair and a wartime secret in “Little Rooster.” In “Roman’s Song,” Roman’s desire to help a new immigrant brings him into contact with a sordid underworld. At his father’s request, Victor returns to Riga, the city of his birth, and has his loyalties tested by the man he might have been in “A New Gravestone for an Old Grave.” And, in the noir-inspired “The Russian Riviera,” Kostya leaves Russia to pursue a boxing career only to find himself working as a doorman in a garish nightclub in the Toronto suburbs.

In these deeply-felt, slyly humorous stories, Bezmozgis pleads no special causes but presents immigrant characters with all their contradictions and complexities, their earnest and divided hearts.    

Why we're taking notice: The first collection by award-winner David Bezmozgis in more than a decade, Immigrant City continues his tradition of characters navigating spaces between cultures. 


Book Cover One Strong Girl

One Strong Girl, by S. Lesley Buxton

About the book: One Strong Girl is a mother's vivid account of what it is like to lose her daughter, India, to a rare debilitating disease. The story is a bold description of what it means to deal with deep sorrow and still find balance and beauty in an age steeped in the denial of death. At ten, India climbed the highest on the rope at gymnastics, yet by sixteen was so weak she was unable to even dress herself. The narrative follows the six-year fight for answers from the medical community. Finally, after the genetic testing of India's DNA, it was discovered there were two mutations on her ASAH1 gene, a deadly combination. Today her cells are alive in a research lab at the University of Ottawa. This is a legacy that cuts both ways, a point of pride and pain. One Strong Girl is a story of what it's like to outlive an only child. It describes the intensity of loving a dying child and most importantly, the joy to be found, even amidst the sorrow.

Why we're taking notice: Being the parent of a child who has died is the most harrowing space between, as Buxton shows in her memoir. She also writes about grief, which (according to people who don't know any better) is supposed to be a space between, a terrain to pass through, but Buxton learns there's nothing temporary about it—although it changes. 


Book Cover Me Myself They

Me, Myself, They: Life Beyond the Binary, by Joshua M. Ferguson

About the book: On May 7, 2018, Joshua M. Ferguson made history by becoming the first person to receive a non-binary birth certificate with an “X” designation in the province of Ontario—the first jurisdiction in the world to offer four options for birth certificates: M, F, X, or no gender marker. Me, Myself, They: A Non-Binary Life chronicles Ferguson’s extraordinary journey of transformation to become the celebrated non-binary filmmaker, scholar, and advocate for trans rights they are today. Beginning with their birth and early childhood years of gender freedom spent dancing and singing along to Jem, Madonna, and Cyndi Lauper, Ferguson recounts the tumultuous evolution of their identity, including traumatizing experiences with gender conversion therapy, bullying, depression, sexual assault, and violent physical assault. But Ferguson’s journey is above all about survival, transformation, and self-acceptance. Through their impassioned storytelling, we learn what it means to reclaim one’s identity and to live beyond the binary.

Me, Myself, They is a powerful, honest, and inspirational memoir that explains what it feels like to never truly fit into the prescribed roles of boy or girl, woman or man. By combining personal and intimate reflections with an informed analysis of the ongoing shift in contemporary attitudes towards sex and gender, Ferguson calls for the societal and cultural recognition of non-binary genders and an inclusive understanding of the rich diversity of human identity.

Why we're taking notice: This is the first book by Ferguson, an award-winning filmmaker whose activism has contributed to significant policy changes in Canada that have improved the lives of many. 


Book Cover Whatever Gets You Through

Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors on Life after Sexual Assault, edited by Stacey May Fowles & Jen Sookfong Lee

About the book: In the era of #MeToo, we’ve become better at talking about sexual assault. But sexual assault isn’t limited to a single, terrible moment of violence: it stays with survivors, following them wherever they go.

Through the voices of twelve diverse writers, Whatever Gets You Through offers a powerful look at the narrative of sexual assault not covered by the headlines—the weeks, months, and years of survival and adaptation that people live through in its aftermath. With a foreword by Jessica Valenti, an extensive introduction by editors Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee, and contributions from acclaimed literary voices such as Alicia Elliott, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, Heather O’Neill, and Juliane Okot Bitek, the collection explores some of the many different forms that survival can take.
From ice hockey to kink, boxing to tapestry-making, these striking personal essays address experiences as varied as the writers who have lived them. With candor and insight, each writer shares their own unique account of enduring: the everyday emotional pain and trauma, but also the incredible resilience and strength that can emerge in the aftermath of sexual assault.

Why we're taking notice: How one "gets through" this space between the experience of sexual assault and the rest of a life is addressed in these essays, which show strength and resilience, and are written by some of Canada's most excellent writers.  


Book Cover Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being

Before I was a Critic I was a Human Being, by Amy Fung

About the book: Before I was a Critic I was a Human Being is the debut collection of creative nonfiction by Amy Fung. In it, Fung takes a closer examination at Canada's mythologies of multiculturalism, settler colonialism, and identity through the lens of a national art critic.

Following the tangents of a foreign-born perspective and the complexities and complicities in participating in ongoing acts of colonial violence, the book as a whole takes the form of a very long land acknowledgement. Taken individually, each story roots itself in the learning and unlearning process of a first generation settler immigrant as she unfurls each region's sense of place and identity.

Why we're taking notice: “Amy Fung’s project—part essay collection and part extended land acknowledgement—presents complex narratives of the self that never settle, but shift and glitter around questioning of power and representation in art and writing." —Alex Leslie, author of We All Need to Eat 


Book Cover A Deadly Divide

A Deadly Divide, by Ausma Zehanat Khan

About the book: In the aftermath of a mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec, the local police apprehend Amadou Duchon—a young Muslim man at the scene helping the wounded—but release Etienne Roy, the local priest who was found with a weapon in his hands.

The shooting looks like a hate crime, but detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty sense there is more to the story. Sent to liaise with a community in the grip of fear, they find themselves in fraught new territory, fueled by the panic and suspicion exploited by a right-wing radio host.

As Rachel and Esa grapple to stop tensions shutting the case down entirely, all the time, someone is pointing Esa in another direction, a shadowy presence who anticipates his every move.

A Deadly Divide is a piercingly observed, gripping thriller that reveals the fractures that try to tear us all apart: from the once-tight partnership between detectives Esa and Rachel, to the truth about a deeply divided nation.

Why we're taking notice: All of the novels in Khan's series have inhabited in-between spaces as Detective Esa Khattak investigates crimes related to Muslim communities in Canada and abroad, but this one (as indicated by its title) doubles down as Khattak's colleagues cast doubt upon his ability to be objective in relation to white supremacy movements, and the story delves into the space between cultures in French and English Canada and also religion and secularism in Quebec. 


Book Cover the Seed

The Seed: Infertility Is a Feminist Issue, by Alexandra Kimball

About the book: Notes on desire, reproduction, and grief, and how feminism doesn't support women struggling to have children In pop culture as much as in policy advocacy, the feminist movement has historically left infertile women out in the cold. This book traverses the chilly landscape of miscarriage, and the particular grief that accompanies the longing to make a family. Framed by her own desire for a child, journalist Alexandra Kimball brilliantly reveals the pain and loneliness of infertility, especially as a lifelong feminist. Her experience of online infertility support groups—where women gather in forums to discuss IVF, surrogacy, and isolation—leaves her longing for a real life community of women working to break down the stigma of infertility.

In the tradition of Eula Biss's On Immunity and Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-sided, Kimball marries perceptive analysis with deep reportage—her findings show the lie behind the prevailing, and at times paradoxical, cultural attitudes regarding women's right to actively choose to have children. Braiding together feminist history, memoir, and reporting from the front lines of the battle for reproductive rights and technology, The Seed plants in readers the desire for a world where no woman is made to feel that her biology is her destiny.

Why we're taking notice: Hooray for hybrids! We're all for any book that "[braids]  together feminist history, memoir, and reporting from the front lines"—and the Eula Biss comparison is irresistible, because On Immunity is one of the best exploration of a space between ever written. Further, Kimball's essay on miscarriage from 2015 was unforgettable. 


Book Cover Mackenzie King in the Age of Dictators

Mackenzie King in the Age of the Dictators: Canada's Imperial and Foreign Policies, by Roy MacLaren

About the book: Until the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, Mackenzie King prided himself on never publicly saying anything derogatory about Hitler or Mussolini, unequivocally supporting the appeasement policies of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and regarding Hitler as a benign fellow mystic. In Mackenzie King in the Age of the Dictators Roy MacLaren leads readers through the political labyrinth that led to Canada's involvement in the Second World War and its awakening as a forceful nation on the world stage. Prime Minister King's fascination with foreign affairs extended from helping President Theodore Roosevelt exclude “little yellow men" from North America in 1908 to his conviction that appeasement of Hitler and Mussolini should be the cornerstone of Canada's foreign and imperial policies in the 1930s. If war could be avoided, King thought, national unity could be preserved.

MacLaren draws extensively from King's diaries and letters and contemporary sources from Britain, the United States, and Canada to describe how King strove to reconcile French Canadian isolationism with English Canadians' commitment to the British Commonwealth. King, MacLaren explains, was convinced by the controversies of the First World War that another such conflagration would be disruptive to Canada. When King finally had to recognize that the Liberals' electoral fortunes depended on English Canada having greater voting power than French Canada, he did not reflect on whether a higher morality and intellectual integrity should transcend his anxieties about national unity. A focused view of an important period in Canadian history, replete with insightful stories, vignettes, and anecdotes, Mackenzie King in the Age of the Dictators shows Canada flexing its foreign policy under King's cautious eye and ultimately ineffective guiding hand.

Why we're taking notice: The space between world wars and tyrants qualifies this book for the list for sure, and this is the sixth book by MacLaren, whose career in the foreign service and the civil service stretches back decades. 


Book Cover Coconut Dreams

Coconut Dreams, by Derek Mascarenhas

About the book: Coconut Dreams explores the lives of the Pinto family through seventeen linked short stories. Starting with a ghost story set in Goa, India in the 1950's, the collection shifts to the unique perspectives of two adolescents, Aiden and Ally Pinto. Both first generation Canadians, these siblings tackle their adventures in a predominantly white suburb with innocence, intelligence and a timid foot in two distinct cultures.

Derek Mascarenhas takes a fresh look at the world of the new immigrant and the South Asian experience in Canada. In these stories, a daughter questions her father's love at an IKEA grand opening; an aunt remembers a safari-gone-wrong in Kenya; an uncle's unrequited love is confronted at a Hamilton Goan picnic; a boy tests his faith amidst a school-yard brawl; and a childhood love letter is exchanged during the building of a backyard deck. Singularly and collectively, these stories will move the reader with their engaging narratives and authentic voices.

Why we're taking notice: "This charming collection of stories resides between a suburban childhood in Canada and inherited, often mythic, tales from Goa that belong to the elders. Characters decide on love with rings lost at sea and soothe babies with stories of elephants in mountains. The voices in these stories are from people who seem far away and yet are inside us. Prepare to be delighted." —Kim Echlin, author of Under the Visible Life


Book Cover Smells Like Stars

Smells Like Stars, by D. Nandi Ohdiambo

About the book: Kerstin Ostheim, a journalist, and P. J. Banner, a freelance photographer, have been together six months after meeting on a dating website. They are getting married in two weeks and as the wedding fast approaches, they question their compatibility while investigating mysterious horse killings that are taking place in Ogweyo's Cove, the Pacific tourist haven where they live.

In the meantime, Schuld Ostheim, Kerstin's transgender daughter from her first marriage, is preparing for an art exhibit after being hospitalized for a physical assault while her boyfriend, Woloff, an Olympic medalist in the 1500m, comes to terms with a career ending knee injury. As Kerstin and P.J. get closer to the truth about the dead horses, they also begin to more clearly see each other. Simultaneously, Schuld and Woloff encounter obstacles caused by how their relationships with the past effects their sense of a possible future.

Ultimately, Smells Like Stars draws attention to what is hidden in plain sight, that life can be cruel, ambiguous and without meaning.

Why we're taking notice: Because this week Ohdiambo was awarded the Elliot Cades Award for Literature, a prestigious literary prize in Hawaii. 


Book Cover A Queer Love Story

A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout, Edited by Marilyn Schuster

About the book: A Queer Love Story presents the first fifteen years of letters between Jane Rule—novelist and the first widely recognized “public lesbian” in North America—and Rick Bébout, journalist and editor with the Toronto-based Body Politic, an important incubator of LGBT thought and activism. Rule lived in a remote rural community on Galiano Island in British Columbia but wrote a column for the magazine. Bébout resided in and was devoted to Toronto’s gay village. At turns poignant, scintillating, and incisive, their exchanges include ruminations on queer life and the writing life even as they document some of the most pressing LGBT issues of the ’80s and ’90s, including HIV/AIDs, censorship, and state policing of desire.

Why we're taking notice: From the review at Quill and Quire, "A Queer Love Story … encompasses a quintessential period for the queer community in Canada … What emerges is not merely an engaging portrait of two provocative thinkers, but a snapshot of a period in Canadian history that saw a seismic change in the lives and attitudes and ideas of the nation’s queer community."


Book Cover This One Looks Like a Boy

This One Looks Like a Boy: My Gender Journey to Life as a Man, by Lorimer Shenher

About the book: Since he was a small child, Lorimer Shenher knew something for certain: he was a boy. The problem was, he was growing up in a girl’s body.

In this candid and thoughtful memoir, Shenher shares the story of his gender journey, from childhood gender dysphoria to teenage sexual experimentation to early-adult denial of his identity—and finally the acceptance that he is trans, culminating in gender reassignment surgery in his fifties. Along the way, he details his childhood in booming Calgary, his struggles with alcohol, and his eventual move to Vancouver, where he became the first detective assigned to the case of serial killer Robert Pickton (the subject of his critically acclaimed book That Lonely Section of Hell). With warmth and openness, This One Looks Like A Boy takes us through one of the most important decisions Shenher will ever make, as he comes into his own and finally discovers acceptance and relief.

Why we're taking notice: Shenher's first book was critically acclaimed and nominated for several literary prizes, and in this work he turns the lens on his personal experiences. 


Book Cover Divided Loyalties

Divided Loyalties, by Nilofar Shidmehr

About the book: The stories begin in 1978, the year before the Iranian Revolution. In a neighbourhood in Tehran, a group of affluent girls play a Cinderella game with unexpected consequences. In the mid 1980s, women help their husbands and brothers survive war and political upheaval. In the early 1990s in Vancouver, Canada, a single-mother refugee is harassed by the men she meets on a telephone dating platform. And in 2003, a Canadian woman working for an international aid organization is dispatched to her hometown of Bam to assist in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

At once powerful and profound, Divided Loyalties depicts the rich lives of Iranian women and girls in post-revolutionary Iran and the contemporary diaspora in Canada; the enduring complexity of the expectations forced upon them; and the resilience of a community experiencing the turmoil of war, revolution, and migration.

Why we're taking notice: "I’d like to distinguish between the revolution and its violent aftermath," explains Shidmehr in her conversation with Trevor Corkum. "Had I been born in colonialist times, I could not have become a Canadian writer, giving interviews about my new book."


Book Cover Je Nathanael

Je Nathanael, by Nathalie Stephens

About the book: Je Nathanaël is an endangered text. Neither essay nor poem nor novel nor sex-show, what it takes from language it gives back to the body

In this new and updated edition of Je Nathanaël, first published by BookThug in 2006, Nathanaël explores ways in which language constrains the body, shackles it to gender, and proposes instead a different way of reading, where words are hermaphroditic and transform desire in turn. Suggesting that one body conceals another, it lends an ear to this other body and delights in the anxiety it provokes. With parts written in French, other parts in English, this is truly a hybrid text, throwing itself into question as it acts upon itself in translation. It is both originator and recipient of its own echo. In this regard it does not, cannot exist, pulling insistently away from itself in an attempt to draw attention to the very things it seeks to conceal. In this way, Je Nathanaël is a book of paradox, negating itself as it comes into being.

Why we're taking notice: Just republished in a brand new edition with an Afterword by Elena Basile, and a Postface by the author.


Book Cover Cottagers and Indians

Cottagers and Indians, by Drew Hayden Taylor

About the book: An Anishnawbe man, Arthur Copper, decides to repopulate the lakes of his home Territory with manoomin, or wild rice—much to the disapproval of the local non-Indigenous cottagers, in particular the formidable Maureen Poole. Based on real-life events in Ontario’s Kawartha Lakes region, Cottagers and Indians infuses contemporary conflicts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous sensibilities with Drew Hayden Taylor’s characteristic warmth and humour.

Why we're taking notice: A story situated in the midst of a conflict, Taylor's latest play delves right into the tensions. 


Book Cover At the Bridge

At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging, By Wendy Wickwire

About the book: At the Bridge chronicles the little-known story of James Teit, a prolific ethnographer who, from 1884 to 1922, worked with and advocated for the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia and the northwestern United States. From his base at Spences Bridge, BC, Teit forged a participant-based anthropology that was far ahead of its time. Whereas his contemporaries, including famed anthropologist Franz Boas, studied Indigenous peoples as members of “dying cultures,” Teit worked with them as members of living cultures resisting colonial influence over their lives and lands. Whether recording stories, mapping place-names, or participating in the chiefs’ fight for fair treatment, he made their objectives his own. With his allies, he produced copious, meticulous records; an army of anthropologists could not have achieved a fraction of what he achieved in his short life. Wickwire’s beautifully crafted narrative accords Teit the status he deserves, consolidating his place as a leading and innovative anthropologist in his own right.

Why we're taking notice: Because we need more bridges and new ways to know and grow and understand.