Canada Reads 2017: The Defence

The Canada Reads debates will take place March 27–30, 2017. This year's literary defenders are, clockwise from top left, Candy Palmater, Jody Mitic, Measha Brueggergosman, Chantal Kreviazuk and Humble the Poet. (CBC)

It’s that time of year again! Canada Reads is back with five new books and the Canadian celebrities who plan to defend them. Every year, Canada tunes into CBC to watch four days of painstaking debate on the book that Canadians should be reading right now.

We’ve assembled three of our Canadian book lovers to defend their chosen titles and to participate in our very own WWAC Reads Canada Reads. In 2015, Angel won defending Ru by Kim Thuy and Ardo won last year defending The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. Who will win this year? We’ll find out!

Angel CruzCompany Town by Madeline Ashby (Defended by Measha Brueggergosman

A bildungsroman set on a futuristic oil rig in the Canadian Maritimes might not seem like the most obvious choice for Canada Reads, but that’s not the only surprise that Madeline Ashby has for readers in Company Town. Go Jung-hwa is a surprise to anyone who meets her—she’s “organic,” all-natural human, with not a single technological modification to be had. It’s that trait that makes her such a valuable bodyguard for the United Sex Workers of Canada, and that draws the interest of the Lynch family patriarch, new owner of New Arcadia. Protecting young Joel Lynch on his father’s orders isn’t the straightforward career Hwa had expected, but as murders begin to invade Hwa’s world, Joel’s future turns out to be tied to hers in more ways than one.

Readers will take to the rollicking action scenes just as much as they will to the ethical questions that Ashby poses to her characters. The world of Company Town is complicated in ways that we will recognize—how could we not, when we get closer and closer to these questions with every new scientific discovery and invention? Ashby runs with Hwa in this novel, punching out what it means to be human in a world that has become decidedly less so with every day that passes. Company Town will challenge and intrigue readers who take it on, and if my own experience is any indication, it will burrow under our skin like the best of figurative nanobots, a reminder of what is, what can be, and what will be.

Christa SeeleyThe Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier (Defended by Chantal Kreviazuk)

Canada is a diverse nation – both in population and environment. A theme like “what is the one book Canadians need now?” can see like an impossible question to answer. And in some ways it is – no one book will have all the answers. There are just so many issues facing our country right now, and which ones need our attention and focus can vary from place to place, people to people. That being said, I would argue that the two issues Sheila Watt-Cloutier explores in her book, The Right to be Cold, are not only two of the most urgent issues facing our country today and ones that all Canadians, East Coast or West Coast, North or South, need to start paying attention to.

The Right to be Cold, examines the way in which the lives of indigenous people have been impacted and irrevocably changed over the last century by southern intervention, as well as the effects of climate change on our Northern communities. As Watt-Cloutier explains in her book these two issues are deeply intertwined. Northern populations, like the Inuit, have always had a close relationship with the land, and things like forced relocation and residential schools have deeply impacted their ability to live off the land in the way they had for generations. Their culture, heritage and livelihoods are constantly being threatened and climate change only makes the situation more dire. The permafrost is melting, rivers are drying up, animals are unable to get enough food and as a result the Inuit have a harder time hunting, travelling, building shelters like igloos, keeping their food stores cold and so on. The Arctic is being hit hardest by climate change, despite the fact that they contribute the least to the pollution and toxins being released into the environment. And the changes don’t stop there. It may be the Arctic that’s seeing the greatest damage right now, but it won’t be long until those changes cascade down to the rest of the planet as well.

This book is not always an easy read. There are some deeply upsetting parts (including one part about what happened to the sled dogs that still makes me feel ill) and certain sections can come across a bit dry. Nevertheless, The Right to be Cold, is essential reading for Canadians. It’s informative and educational but it’s also a call to action – to do what we can to save the planet but also to stand up for our indigenous communities. To stop trying to force our own ideas about what’s best on them, and instead listen to what the communities need. And it’s a call that demands our collective response.

Ardo OmerThe Break by Katherena Vermette (Defended by Candy Palmater

Canada Reads 2017 asks us what Canadians should be reading now and the answer is The Break by Katherena Vermette.

The story takes place in Winnipeg’s North End where Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and notices that someone is in trouble on The Break (a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house). We find out that a 13-year-old Métis girl is raped which kicks this book into gear as we try to understand who could have done this and why.

Majorie Celona called it a “literary thriller” and I agree. You want to know what happened and Vermette gets us through with shifting perspectives and voices of indigenous women, and the investigator trying to get us the answers. It’s not an easy read especially the topic of sexual violence but it’s trying to help the reader understand the trauma, loss and the survival these women go through as part of their daily routine which leads into why this is important now.

Violence against indigenous women is three times higher than that of a non-indigenous woman according to Statistics Canada and after years of asking, there’s finally an inquiry into the missing and murder indigenous women and girls. This is a wonderfully written story and Vermette, a Métis woman, is getting to tell it.

Other Canada Reads books being defended this week:

Angel Cruz

Angel Cruz

Angel Cruz is a writer and boy band scholar. You can also find her at Book Riot for endless discussion and flailing over all things literature. Ice cream, Broadway musicals, and Arashi are her lifeblood.