Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength. ”

4/5 stars.
197ebook, 208 pages.
Read from January 24, 2020 to Janaury 29, 2020

I had never even heard of this book until a few years ago. It kept coming up in a few blogs in lists as one of those life-changing novels that you read in your youth. You know the ones, books like Harry Potter, The OutsidersThe GiverSpeak, Tuck Everlasting, and Where The Red Fern Grows. Perhaps this book was read more in the US than it was in Canada as it didn’t reach my repertoire as a kid. I wish, however, it had.

Bridge to Terabithia was originally published in 1977 and follows the story of Jess Aarons. Jess and his family don’t have much but he has been training all summer to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. What he doesn’t expect is that a new kid, a girl named Leslie, while absolutely whoop him and all the other fifth graders on day one. While Jess was initially annoyed at losing, especially after he trained to so hard, he comes to form a formidable bond with this fearless new girl who has come from the city. The two of them create a magical place called Terabithia at tree past a stream behind Jess’ house. It’s a magical place that the two of them rule over in which they can dream and imagine. The two, despite coming from very different homes become inseparable. However, a tragedy occurs that changes Jess and their story forever.

“Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.”

I’ve read reviews of people who have never forgotten how this book made them feel when they read it as a kid and their utter devastation at the loss of one of the characters, however, I still didn’t expect the outcome and was shook when I came to the tragic point in the story. I can see now how devastating a story like this would have been for a kid reading this for the first time as even I was taken back. The story manages to breach the topic of death, loss, and grief in a way that is tangible for a young mind. Unless tragedy touched you in your own youth, chances are you never gave a second thought to death even if you watched or read about it in other mediums. There is something special about this book with the way that death is approached and how the characters cope afterwards that really drives the point home. I could see this book being helpful for a youth dealing with tragedy themselves as it depicts well someone with minimal understanding or experience of death might cope or approach a tragedy. The story encourages deep compassion for people of different circumstances that may not seem to need it at first.

The writing is inviting and the characters enjoyable and relatable, another reason this book is so timeless. We’re looking at 40+ years on and this book is still being read and discussed and that is because death and grief are universal. Despite this, we’re poor at dealing with death as a society and it’s novels like this one provide a useful way for youth to broach and deal with the topic. I would highly recommend this novel if you’ve not read it before or are looking for a middle-grade appropriate read that discusses, love, friendship, death, and grieving.

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

“Newfoundland where it is perpetually almost summer until it is almost winter again.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 539 pages.
Read from February 28, 2020 to March 18, 2020

I’ve been a bad reader lately and have found myself behind on my books. I’ve finally finished what is number four out of five of the Canada Reads 2020 finalists. The debates themselves have been postponed so I have some time to catch up at least. Alayna Fender will be defending this novel when the debates resume.

Following a first-person narrative rotation of Newfoundland locals, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club highlights what it’s like to work and live within the small province. Needless to say, it doesn’t paint a happy picture. All the characters know each other and the quick-paced narrative jumps from one character to another while depicting intimate scenes from all their unique perspectives. To highlight a few of the characters: Iris, a self-sabotaging waitress, loves John but he is married. John works with Iris and thinks only of himself and won’t end their affair despite the pending consequences and damage its causing Iris. Georgina is married to John, she was looking for something completely different after the heartbreak of her last partner. Olive is Iris’ roommate who is barely holding on after experiencing severe sexual trauma. Damien, who also works with Iris and John, is suffering from a broken heart after Tom left him and can’t stop drinking and doing drugs. Each character is bound with these similarities, that they grew up in poverty in a small and socially confined bay of Newfoundland.

“No one says it is okay to feel hurt. No one says anything. Everyone just goes on living. We all go on living until we lose more of each other. And then we are made lesser.”

I have to say, I think the current atmosphere has affected my feelings on this novel. The characters are great and so is the writing but it isn’t what you’d call a happy story. In fact, it’s very dreary and the world feels a bit too dreary right now due to the Covid-19 virus.  I’m sure that this has played a factor into me not rating this novel higher as I did really appreciate the writing style and concept. This book also isn’t for everyone. The characters ooze with inescapable sadness and desperation. There are also many triggers for those that have suffered from sexual assault within the book. While it’s brought about tastefully and while highlighting the culture that perpetuates it, the content is still graphic. Interestingly, the author highlights both sides of the one major assault that takes place in the novel.

What I liked the most about this novel was how nicely it laid out some of the aspects of rape culture and the thought process behind it. The inner worthlessness and lack of control felt by the female characters and the confusion of the male characters who in the patriarchial workings of entitlement, poverty, and suffering in a small town were never taught to understand or empathise. What’s more, is that I could relate to some of the inner conversations that some of the female characters had with themselves with the endless people-pleasing and being trapped in that cycle of never feeling good enough constantly weighing them down.

I do wish I had read this book at a different time but who is to say that my rating of the book would change. Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? Perhaps. It gives a voice to those that struggle to live out in the beautiful East coast. It’s not easy to make a living out there. The book also discusses rape culture, drug and alcohol abuse, and the treatment of people who are of mixed ethnicities, all of which are prevalent issues facing Canadians. We will have to see how this one stands up in the debates.

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.