Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

“She was forty-five minutes late to work that day, but she had toast for breakfast. Goddamnit.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from February 18, 2020 to February 28 2020.

I guess I scheduled this wrong? Sorry it’s late! This is book number three for me of the five finalists from this year’s Canada Reads 2020. Radicalized is the one novel of four short stories in the final five this year. I better hurry up with the last two as the debates are approaching fast!

Each story in this novel is based around the characters doing something ‘radical’ in a futuristic or dystopian setting, hence the title. It’s an interesting look into what being radicalized means in our current society and political atmosphere.

Unauthorized Bread:  4/5 stars
A highly unique refugee story that highlights the difficulties of making it in a new country that doesn’t really want you. What makes this story so interesting is that in this futuristic setting, companies that make basic home appliances have patents on what can be used in them. For example, a toaster that can only process bread from the same company. A group of immigrants starts jailbreaking their appliances when the company goes bankrupt so that they continue to use them which could, in turn, result in them getting kicked out of the public housing tower that they worked so hard to get into. I really enjoyed the flow of this story and the development of the main character. The focus on the toaster and the ridiculous premise of only being able to use branded bread is not only entertaining but highlights some of the circumstances and frustrations that are not easily obvious to others or escapable for refugees.

Model Minority – 2/5 stars
A superhero story with a twist. Imagine that Superman started getting involved in some of the deep-seated racial issues between police and people of colour and then realising his help isn’t wanted. The white people don’t want him interfering with their system and some of the black people that he tries to help see him as someone who tries to do good but makes things worse. A great concept but I felt it wasn’t executed very well.

Radicalized – 5/5
This story was the one that really impressed me and would get me to read more by Doctorow. A normal family of three is devasted with the news that the wife has cancer. Despite paying a decent amount of money for health insurance the insurance company denies a treatment that might save her. The husband joins a Facebook group for people in a similar scenario to get some support as he struggles to cope. Miraculously, his wife goes into spontaneous remission and is completely cleared of her cancer. The husband continues to help and maintain the support group that helped him in his darkest hours. Unfortunately, as frustration and numbers in the group grow,  members of the group become radicalised and start bombing insurance offices. The man tries his best to stop members from committing the acts but also does nothing to report the acts he can see coming. This story really grabs you as you truly feel the plight of the family as you really lean towards the decisions that they make.

Masque of the Red Death –  3/5 stars
A rich dude builds the ultimate apocalypse bunker and carefully selects the people he wants to join him. A certain set of single women and people with other assets and connections. He enjoys building the bunker and treats the whole thing as a bit of a game as he strives to have the group see him as the ultimate leader. He has one rule for his group of people and it’s that they can bring no others. This, of course, will backfire on him.

I think what I liked most about this selection is that it touched on a variety of interesting issues and subjects, making it, in my opinion, one of best contenders to meet the 2020 Canada Reads theme of one book to bring Canada into focus. The book touches on some hot Canadian topics involving race, immigration, refugees, privilege, classism and privatized health care while also making for an engaging read. Out of the three books from the finalists I’ve read, this one is my current favourite. We will see how it stacks up against the last two.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

“The world is hard,” his mom had said. “You need to be harder.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  249 pages.
Read from February 1, 2020 to February 11, 2020

This is book number two of the five for me  in the Canada Reads 2020 contenders.  I best get reading a bit faster if I want to have all five read before the debates in March! I have always wanted to read Eden Robinson, in fact, I’m pretty sure one of her books was part on my required reading list in one of my university classes back in the day and I still didn’t get around to reading her (oops)! At least I’m making up for it now. 

Kaniehtiio Horn will be defending Son of a Trickster in the debates this March. I adore Kaniehtiio Horn so it will be interesting to see how she does in the debates.

Kaniehtiio Horn

Son of a Trickster starts off in a seemingly normal, albeit tragic and raw, fashion as it details the coming of age of a young First Nation teen named Jared. Despite his fraught and complicated family life he does try his best to do the right thing and has a genuinely good heart and tends to get by with his sarcasm and fantastic pot cookies when shit hits the fan. This part of the story really depicts some of the First Nation’s experiences and traumas while also drawing you into a gripping story. There is also a whimsical and magical aspect to this book that is briefly mentioned in the first chapter that you almost forget about until the last quarter of the book.

When Jared was just a boy, his family move away from his one grandmother because she believes him to be the son of a trickster, a wee’git. Jared thinks little of the incident as he grows older and it’s never brought up again, even after his parent’s separation. However, as Jared’s family life starts to unravel he also begins to see things, things that presumably shouldn’t be there. At first, he starts to brush them off as bad trips and vows to come off hallucinogens but they continue to happen. His mom and nana finally reveal a secret to him that they’ve kept and despite their differences, they might be his only hope in protection as these ‘hallucinations’ become more physical and severe.

I loved the first 75% of this book. Jared’s character is immensely funny, gentle, and resilient, however, when the trickster aspects of the book started to take shape the story started to feel a bit disjointed to me. However, having said that, there are some beautiful and poetic sections of writing that Robinson includes in the opening of some the chapters and during some of Jared’s visions.

“Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. Remember that you were not always earthbound. Every living creature, every drop of water and every sombre mountain is the by-blow of some bloated, dying star. Deep down, we remember wriggling through the universe as beams of light.”

‘Son of Trickster’ – Eden Robinson

Apparently, this book was meant to be the first in series, which, I could see panning out quite nicely, especially since the magical sections of the book felt like they should have been expanded on more. What I loved about this book was the First Nations experience that it so gracefully touched upon. I felt for Jared and wanted better things for him and his family and was bothered and intrigued by the circumstances that he had to face. The character work on both Jared, his mom, as well as Sarah is amazing as Robinson managed to highlight their traumas without drowning you in it.

Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It definitely sheds light on the First Nations experience in the same way that We Have Always Been Here highlights the queer Muslim experience in Canada. Both prominent and important issues but which one will come out on top in the debates? Especially when there are three other books to contend with. Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

We Have Always Been Here: A Queen Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib

Grown-ups, who are supposed to protect their children, are limited by what “best” has felt like to them, based on the circumstances they grew in and the privilege they did or did not have. The lines between grown-up and child were often blurred between me and my mom. Her “best” did not look like mine; in fact, it looked like danger. It felt like surrender.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 190 pages.
Read from January 29, 2020 to February 1, 2020.

Whoop whoop! First book into the Canada Reads 2020 and its started out with a bang. This year Canada Reads brings one collection of novellas, two memoirs, and two pieces of fiction. I started with We Have Always Been Here which is one of the two memoirs heading into the debates. We Have Always Been Here will be defended by Amanda Brugel during the debates taking place from March 16-19th.

Samra spent her childhood years growing up in Pakistan in fear of religious persecution as well as the threat of a highly patriarchal society that stifled her and her family. After being sexually assaulted by a family friend her life became even more restricted. From a young age Samra had a fire in her that couldn’t be put out no matter what was thrown at her. When violence started to escalate her family was thankfully able to pack up and flee to Canada to safety. Samra and her family found themselves in a new home where they were not as affluent as they were in Pakistan. Samra struggled as a new immigrant at school and even more so with her identity as she struggled between her conservative family values and a country with a new way of life that she found immensely appealing. Samra is married and divorced, twice, before the age of 25 and goes on an exploratory journey with her own sexuality as she realises her own queerness. Still, Samra is drawn to her religion and needs to find a new way to connect with her church and her family as she blooms into her true self.

How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don’t exist?

Samra Habib

Samra is now an advocate for the queer Muslim community with her writing and photography to help highlight and bring light to queer Muslims who have been in her situation. Samra’s writing is frank and engaging as she details the story of her life without asking for sympathy. Her journey is an empowering one and one that I didn’t want to put down. Samra embraces her queerness, femininity, and religion with grace and strength and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her memoir.

Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? While this is an immensely important topic we will have to wait and see what the other books bring to the table to the debates.