Tag Archives: Canadian

Not as absorbing as expected

Maharaj, R. (2010). The amazing absorbing boy. Toronto: Knopf Canada.

I had high expectations for this book drawn mostly from hearing it recently received the Trillium Book Award ($20 000). Unfortunately, I must confess I did not find this book as captivating as I had anticipated.

I did appreciate the viewpoints in this book and how Maharaj helps to highlight the Canada that many Canadians thinks no longer exists. As the Harper majority slowly starts to revert Canadian immigration policy back to the antiquated, racist, and xenophobic “None is too many” rhetoric of the 1930’s it is of crucial importance to recognize this fact: When it comes to the integration of immigrants and refugees into our society we have never seen complete success. It should be noted that the main character of this book, 17 year old Sam, like most refugees didn’t actually want to come to Canada in the first place! Once here what we see through Sam’s eyes are glimpses of uncomfortable, but very real truths:

  1. Immigrants who come to Canada do NOT always/automatically fare better than their peers from their place of origin.
  2. Canadians are mostly passive in their acceptance of foreigners. We (native born citizens who work outside of immigrant aid organizations) generally accept, but we do little to actively welcome, aid, and acclimatize new comers.
  3. It is primarily other immigrants & refugees who help new immigrants & refugees.

In addition to these aspects of the book I also liked how Maharaj made Sam a fan of comic books (funny scene in a Toronto Public Library where some snotty kid gets mad at Sam for calling his “graphic novel” a “comic”… they’re the same thing, Bud!). Sam often makes sense of his world by relating it to comic book scenarios and characters. This is definitely an element of Sam’s character that teens can relate to.

However, what might put teens of this book is that… well, frankly this book is kind of boring. As Donna Bailey Nurse wrote in her review for the Globe & Mail, “Most of the novel’s conversation about race and immigration unfolds through thought and dialogue rather than dramatic action.” A book of over 300 pages needs dramatic action!!!

This book is almost a great recommendation for reluctant readers as it centers on a male in his late teens who like comics, but the length and the plodding plot are big turn offs… sorry Maharaj 😦 However, if you read this book and liked aspects of it (or would rather skip this book and look for something of more particular interest) let me make some recommendations:

If you like hearing about the struggle of immigrants to Canada and how they help to build our society you may like Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of the Lion.

If you like reading about a boy coming of age trying to find who he is and what he can do you may like Andre Alexis’ Childhood.

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Band of Acadians

Skelton, J. (2009). Band of Acadians: A novel. Toronto: Dundurn Press

John Skelton definitely did his homework before writing this book, but it is more than factual accuracy that appeals to me about how he set the story. This is one of the few books that has balance between the female and male characters. There is an equal representation of sexes in the lead characters, although overall there are more male than female characters, and both sexes are active participants progressing the narrative and showing multiple dimensions.

The book chronicles the escape of fifty boys and fifty girls from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, their flight to Louisburg (the approximate distance is displayed in the Google map at the end of this post), and their eventually settling in Westmount where they successfully defend themselves from several British assaults. The story takes place in 1775 the dialogue is digestible for modern vocabularies, although I did find myself forgetting that the characters were French because the books is, obviously, written in English.

This is book that every fan of historical fiction can enjoy regardless of sex or gender. However, the way that it is written seems to be geared more towards male readers than female. Within a few sentences of the books beginning the escape is underway and there are many marvelous fight scenes throughout and some very noble heroics against the British forces at the end.

Though not my favourite genre this historical work was appealing and if anyone needed a bit of a boost getting into Canadian history (say, for a high school history class for example) I would happily recommend this book.

Half World

Goto, H. (2009). Half world. Toronto: Puffin Canada.

If you are reading this post looking for a good book to read then stop reading my blog and go get a copy of Half World as fast as possible! This is my favourite book in the list so far.

The story is based on the premise that there are three realms: Life, Half Life, and the Spirit realm. Long ago these realms were joined and people passed from Life through the Half Life world to eventually end in the Spirit realm. However, evil tainted the realms and they were divided. This division is the source of most discomfort and void of connection all three worlds are dying. Only Melanie can unify and save them. Fat, friendless, 14 year old Melanie. The main character of the story and my current heroine. Half World is a coming of age story. This is a story about the power of choice and the necessity of growing up. So many fantastical things happen in this book, but the underlying moral of Melanie’s journey is so applicable to daily life. We live in a world where people can be cruel and only by our own choices and our own inner strength can we change things for the better. With the help of friends, who can always be found, if we are willing to look for them, this is what Melanie does.

I chose it because it had a cool cover and because one of the quotes on the back described it as being a “Boschean delight à la Goto”. Hiromi Goto herself often relies on describing her characters simply as Bochean, which they definitely given in her in depth descriptions of them. An example of Bosch’s work can be seen on the left, click it to view more! However, she also invokes the work of Frida Kahlo, and M.C. Escher when describing the setting and characters within the Half World, all of which are rather accurate, although I think that many scenes, especially ones involving the ever melting, elastic Mr. Glueskin reminded me of Dali’s work.

If you liked Half World even half as much as I did I strongly recommend that you either read the graphic novel, or watch the movie Spirited Away. Similar plot about a girl who has to go into an alternate realm full of bizarre creatures to save her parents and discover her inner strength.

First Step 2 Forever

First Step 2 Forever

Bieber Time Books. (2010). Justin Bieber; First step to forever; My story. HarperCollins: New York

Justin Bieber… I don’t even know where to start with this guy. Well, I guess the obvious is as a good a place to start as any. Justin is handsome and he has musical talent. Unfortunately, those two factors seem to comprise all of Justin’s talents. Why? Well, maybe because, as his “autobiography” states, his mom let him perform in the streets to make money to go to Disneyland… Given his knowledge of Germany I suspect this street hustling was the pinnacle of Justin’s home schooling. The writing is terrible… Basically I don’t think any of the text matters and people should avoid looking at it, lest they adopt the bad habits within. In terms of plot this book is booooooring, and everything seems exaggerated, hence why I have tagged this “literature” as both non-fiction and fantasy.

However, if you like Justin Bieber (please forgive my continual ranting) this is a great book because for all intents and purposes this is a picture book. The highly manicured photos are very captivating, I will admit (Oh, the Biebs is soooo dreamy!). This is a great book for sinking your little heart into if you can’t stand to be without a full page spread of Justin’s face staring, starry-eyed, into your soul. Otherwise it’s good for a cynical laugh if you’re feeling patient.

I recognize my bitterness may stem from the fact that Justin Beiber is 16 (maybe 17 by now), but has more money than I will ever see, and it was I who was drawn to reading his autobiography, not the other way around.

Ps- This is a pretty cool dubstep remix of Beiber’s Baby