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Diverse Canadian Literature

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Canada is a diverse country, full of eye-opening and dazzling stories. These books are written by diverse Canadian authors and include non-majority narratives exploring topics such as race, multiculturalism, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Cinnamon, Bruce
The melting queen

Since 1904, when the ice breaks up on the North Saskatchewan River, Edmonton crowns a Melting Queen, a woman who presides over the Melting Day spring carnival and must keep the city's spirits up over the following winter. But this year a genderfluid university dropout called River Runson is named as Melting Queen. River is betrayed by their best friend, and River recalls intrusive memories of past Melting Queens, and vows to change things.

Khan, Adnan
There has to be a knife

Omar Ali is a ticking time bomb. A phone call from his ex-girlfriend Anna's father plunges him into darkness when he learns that she's committed suicide. Clueless and hurting, Omar turns to violence and petty crime to cope. His nefarious activities catch the attention of the RCMP, who pressure him into becoming an informant at a mosque they suspect harbours a terrorist cell. Unravelling from insomnia, sorrow, and rage, Omar grasps at his last shred of hope, embarking on a quest to find the note he's convinced Anna left for him. There Has to Be a Knife examines expectations - both intimate and political - on brown men, exploring ideas of cultural identity and the tropes we use to represent them.

Gowda, Shilpi Somaya .
Shape of Family

The Olanders embody a modern family in a globalized world. Jaya, the cultured daughter of an Indian diplomat and Keith, an ambitious banker from middle-class Philadelphia, meet in a London pub in 1988 and make a life together in suburban California. Their strong marriage is built on shared beliefs and love for their two children: headstrong teenager Karina and young son Prem, the light of their home. But love and prosperity cannot protect them from sudden, unspeakable tragedy, and the family's foundation cracks as each member struggles to seek a way forward.

Khan, Ausma Zehanat.
A deadly divide

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.

Heron, Farah.
The chai factor

Thirty-year-old engineer Amira Khan has set one rule for herself: no dating until her grad-school thesis is done. Nothing can distract her from completing a paper that is so good her boss will give her the promotion she deserves when she returns to work in the city. Amira leaves campus early, planning to work in the quiet basement apartment of her family's house. But she arrives home to find that her grandmother has rented the basement to . . . a barbershop quartet. Seriously? The living situation is awkward: Amira needs silence; the quartet needs to rehearse for a competition; and Duncan, the small-town baritone with the flannel shirts, is driving her up the wall. As Amira and Duncan clash, she is surprised to feel a simmering attraction for him. How can she be interested in someone who doesn't get her, or her family's culture? This is not a complication she needs when her future is at stake. But when intolerance rears its ugly head and people who are close to Amira get hurt, she learns that there is more to Duncan than meets the eye. Now she must decide what she is willing to fight for. In the end, it may be that this small-town singer is the only person who sees her at all.

Lalli, Sonya.
The matchmaker's list

One devoted modern girl + a meddlesome, traditional grandmother = a heartwarming multicultural romantic comedy about finding love where you least expect it. Raina Anand may have finally given in to family pressure and agreed to let her grandmother play matchmaker, but that doesn't mean she has to like it--or that she has to play by the rules. Nani always took Raina's side when she tried to push past the traditional expectations of their tight-knit Indian-immigrant community, but now she's ambushing Raina with a list of suitable bachelors. Is it too much to ask for a little space? Besides, what Nani doesn't know won't hurt her... As Raina's life spirals into a parade of Nani-approved bachelors and disastrous blind dates, she must find a way out of this modern-day arranged-marriage trap without shattering her beloved grandmother's dreams.

Jalaluddin, Uzma.
Ayesha at last

AYESHA SHAMSI has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn't want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century. When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can't get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

Hamilton, Jane Eaton
Weekend

Two lesbian couples visit Ontario cottage country and become neighbors for the duration of their stay.

Thúy, Kim.
Vi

Vi is the youngest of four children and the only girl, Vi was given a name that meant "precious, tiny one," destined to be cosseted and protected, the family's little treasure. Daughter of an enterprising mother and a wealthy and spoiled father who never had to grow up, the Vietnam war tears their family asunder. While Vi and many of her family members escape, her father stays behind, and her family must fend for themselves in Canada.

Plett, Casey.
Little fish

Wendy Reimer is a thirty-year-old trans woman in Winnipeg who comes across evidence that her late grandfather, a devout Mennonite farmer, might have been transgender as well. At first she dismisses the revelation, but as she and her friends struggle to cope with the challenges of their increasingly volatile lives Wendy is drawn to the lost pieces of her grandfather's past.

Bala, Sharon.
The boat people

When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and 500 fellow refugees from Sri Lanka's bloody civil war reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father believes the struggles that he and his six-year-old son have long faced are finally over. But their journey has only just begun. The group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among "the boat people" are members of a terrorist militia infamous for suicide attacks.

Leung, Carrianne K. Y.
That time I loved you

Life is never as perfect as it seems. Tensions that have lurked beneath the surface of a shiny new subdivision rise up. The suburbs of the 1970s promised to be heaven on earth - new houses, new status, happiness guaranteed. But in a Scarborough subdivision populated by newcomers from all over the world, a series of sudden catastrophic events reveals that not everyone's dreams come true. Moving from house to house, Carrianne Leung explores the inner lives behind the tidy front gardens and picture-perfect windows, always returning to June, an irrepressible adolescent Chinese-Canadian coming of age in this shifting world. Through June and her neighbours, Leung depicts the fine line where childhood meets the realities of adult life, and examines, with insight and sharp prose, how difficult it is to be true to ourselves at any age.

Fu, Kim
The lost girls of camp Forevermore

A gripping and deeply felt novel about a group of young girls at a remote camp--and the night that changes everything and will shape their lives for decades to come.

Grady, Wayne.
Emancipation day

Jack Lewis meets and falls in love with Vivian Fanshawe while stationed in Newfoundland during the Second World War. They marry against her family's wishes and eventually travel to Windsor where Vivian meets Jack's family, only to discover he has lied to her about many aspects of his past.

Lindberg, Tracey
Birdie

Birdie is a darkly comic and moving first novel about the universal experience of recovering from wounds of the past, informed by the lore and knowledge of Cree traditions.

Thúy, Kim.
Ru

Winner of the the 2015 Canada Reads competition and the 2010 Governor General's Award, Ru is an autobiographical tale of a woman's journey to Quebec from Vietnam. The beautifully told story involves a Malaysian refugee camp, assimilation into a new community, and a son with autism.

Fu, Kim
For today I am a boy

Peter Huang is a Chinese-Canadian boy who longs to be a girl. While he grows up in Ontario, and later Montreal, he must balance his own gender identity with the masculine expectations of his father. Beautifully written, this exploration of transexuality is tender, melancholy, and enlightening. Author Kim Fu was born in Vancouver to immigrant parents from Hong Kong.

Jamal, Tasneem.
Where the air is sweet

This engrossing story follows the experiences of 3 generations of an Ismaili Muslim family living in Uganda. In the year 1921, young Raju leaves his hometown of Malia, India and starts a new life in Uganda. Fifty years later General Idi Amin forces all Asian-Ugandans to leave the country, and the family must plan a new life for themselves in Canada. Author Tasneem Jamal was born in Mbarara, Uganda and currently lives in Kitchener Ontario.

Highway, Tomson
The rez sisters

Written by a Cree Canadian, The Rez Sisters is a 2 act play about the hopes and experiences of 7 women living on the Wasaychigan Hill Indian Reserve. It explores the bleak realities of life on the reserve, and aspects of Aboriginal spirituality. This gritty play incorporates humour, authentic dialogue in Cree and Ojibway languages, and dancing.

Maracle, Lee
Celia's song

Written by an First Nations elder on the West coast of Canada, this story explores the healing of a Sto:lo family. Celia is a dreamer-seer, whose son has committed suicide. Mink is a shape-shifter who has become intrigued by the dreamy, shaken state of Celia's village. The host of richly-imagined characters includes a sea-serpent, the survivor of a residential school, and many others affected by European colonization.
 

Mootoo, Shani
Moving forward sideways, like a crab

Johnathan was 9 when his his parents separated and his mother disappeared from his life. Years later, he reconnects with his mother, only to find that his mother has transitioned into a man. During this beautiful and emotional story, Johnathan makes many trips between his home in Toronto, and his native home Trinidad. Author Shani Mootoo was raised in Trinidad, and relocated to Vancouver at age 24.

Alexis, André
Fifteen dogs

In an effort to determine whether or not human intelligence contributes to happiness, the Greek gods Apollo and Hermes grant intelligence to 15 dogs in a Toronto veterinary clinic. Beautifully written and boldly imaginative, this book suggests big answers to metaphysical questions. Author André Alexis was born in Trinidad and Tobago and grew up in Ottawa.

King, Thomas
The inconvenient Indian

Thomas King writes candidly about what it means to be a Native American in North America today. Although the reality is at times bleak, the story is told with wit, sensitivity, and ultimately hope. Both a non-fiction historical account and a personal meditation, this is an important book by a talented Canadian writer.

Reid, Raziel
When everything feels like the movies

Winner of the 2014 Governor's General Literary Award for Children's Literature, this YA novel breaks barriers. Outspoken genderqueer teen Jude Rothesay lives in a small town, and is bullied for being different. Although he experiences explicit physical and verbal abuse, he never shies away from the spotlight, and consistently fights for his right to be respected. Canadian author Raziel Reid writes largely from his own experience.

Mistry, Rohinton
A fine balance

This book features 4 characters living in urban India in the 1970s. Each reacts differently to the drastic political landscape of the "State of Internal Emergency" - trying to achieve "a fine balance" between hope and despair. The characters are tender yet resilient, and the narrative is full of insight. Canadian author Rohinton Mistry was born in India.
 

Nawaz, Saleema
Bone and bread

When mixed-race teenage sisters Beena and Sadhana's parents die, they are sent to live with their Sikh uncle in Montreal's Hasidic community. As the sisters grow up they become estranged, but are unable to shake their physical and psychological bond. This coming-of-age story incorporates racial politics, mental illness, and a surprise pregnancy. Author Saleema Nawaz was born in Ottawa to Indian-Caucasian parents.