What do you think of the books for 2018?
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I've finished The Marrow Thieves and here's what I thought:
Distopian futuristic books are not something I normally read; in fact, I wouldn't have read this at all had it not been a Canada Reads finalist. That said, I enjoyed the story and found lots of meat for discussion and contemplation within it.
This is the story of Frenchie, who enters the story around age 11 and we follow him for about 5 years. He lives in a world where environmental damage has devastated the earth. White people have lost the ability to dream and this is having serious implications for them. Aboriginal people, though, continue to dream and harvesting their bone marrow cures the white majority. Therefore, the government hires "recruiters" who capture Aboriginals and take them to "schools" where they die as a result of the harvesting process.
As the story opens, Frenchie has already lost both his parents and is about to lose his only sibling. He meets up with a group of Aboriginal people who are travelling to the (relative) safety of the North. The story tells of their challenges, the ever-present danger of recruiters, the lack of food, water, clothing, and their back-stories.
The book raises awareness of the evil of racism, both present and historical (i.e., the residential school system). We learn about the importance of Aboriginal traditions and history in keeping people strong. There are serious issues presented such as what would you do to protect your family? What are you capable of doing?
While not my favourite type of book, I think it's a good choice for Canada Reads because of the universal themes and messages set in a context of racism and environmental damage which are relevant today.
I heard this book reviewed on CBC Radio and thought "nope, not gonna read that." Then, it was selected as a Canada Reads finalist, so I did.
Craig Davidson was a penniless writer who, upon finding a flyer in his mailbox, applied for and was hired as a school bus driver. He was assigned to Route 412: Special needs, 5 walks, 1 wheelchair. This book tells the story of his year driving these kids to and from school. During that year, Davidson learned a lot about the kids, about people with disabilities in general, and himself. He built a good relationship with his passengers, defending them (a bit too much at times) and learning how to relate to them as individuals, based on their needs. It is a heart-warming story of personal growth.
The story of the year on the bus is interspersed with sections of an unpublished novel Davidson worked on, which features his passengers as heroes in a dystopian future. I could have done without that...or read it all together at the end. It broke up the story and took a while (for me at least) to figure out its relevance. The book is also repetitive at times. And, there are days where it seems he didn't pick up the kids...or he did, but didn't get them at the end of the day....I'm sure there were alternative arrangements made, but wondering where the kids were while he waited to get his bus repaired distracted me.
Bottom line: some great insights, but could have been better executed.
I have started listening to The Boat People and it's shaping up to be a good read as well. It deals with the plight of refugees landing on the shores of Vancouver.
I am still on hold for the rest.
Author Sharon Bala has taken a real event....the arrival of a ship in Canada with close to 500 people on it claiming refugee status....and crafted a novel about survival, empathy and living in a time of concern about terrorism.
The story is told from the perspectives of three main characters: Mahindan, a young, widowed father who arrives from Sri Lanka with his young son claiming refugee status. Mahindan is held in a detention centre, separated from his son. We follow him through his multiple detention hearings, his struggles to maintain his relationship with his son and his struggles to learn English. We learn about his back-story, including his interactions with the Tamil Tigers, considered by Canada to be a terrorist organization.
We also have the perspective of Grace, the adjudicator who will decide Mahindan's fate. She is a third-generation Canadian, whose mother is still dealing with the loss of all the family's property and civil rights during the internment of Japanese Canadians in WW2. Grace is a political appointee determined to do the right thing. But, there are no certainties when it comes to which stories to believe and which people to release.
Finally, there is Priya, a young lawyer who secured an articling position in corporate law, but finds herself "poached" by another senior lawyer to help represent the Sri Lankan refugee claimants because of her own Sri Lankan heritage. Her family becomes involved, and she learns about their own experiences a generation earlier in Sri Lanka.
What I loved about this book was the complexity of the characters -- they all had rich backgrounds to take their own decisions and actions beyond a simple either/or choice. There is so much we cannot know about others, so whom do we trust? How do we decide who is guilty and who is innocent? The choices we make about refugees (and immigrants) are very topical. Should we err on the side of compassion? Or public safety? Canada represents a beacon of hope for many displaced persons throughout the world. It was especially poignant in the novel when, as the ship is nearing the end of its journey and is about to be intercepted by coast guard vessels and helicopters, the refugees on board cheered when they found it was Canada, not the US, who had arrived. An excellent choice for Canada Reads, and a good story.
This is a very powerful and moving book in which Mark Sakamoto tells the story of his grandparents. His maternal grandparents (Mitsue and Hideo) were Canadians of Japanese descent. They were forced from their home in British Columbia after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and forced to work as labourers on an Alberta beet farm. They faced harsh conditions, the "pay" was insulting, but the biggest offense was the sheer injustice in the way these Canadian-born citizens were treated. Mr. Sakamoto's maternal grandfather, Ralph MacLean, served in World War II and was a prisoner of war in Japan for almost four years. He endured unbelievable conditions: no food for days at at time, work details, disease, witnessing the torture and/or death of friends. Yet, when Mitsue's son and Ralph's daughter fell in love, the families welcomed each other into their lives.
The concept of forgiveness is strong throughout the book. Mitsue and Ralph displayed incredible strength during the awful war years and even more strength, I think, in putting the past behind them and moving on with their lives. Here, we see how forgiveness empowers and frees those who forgive...it opens their hearts to the future.
For me, it was such a tragedy that Mr. Sakamoto's parents didn't stay together. After all the history and prejudice that was overcome to celebrate their love...it made me sad. The part of the book about Mr. Sakamoto's own life and that of his parents interested me less than the story of his grandparents, though it was nice to complete the family history.
This novel is set in the future (2074-2095 mainly). Climate change has devastated the earth; it has changed the boundaries of the U.S. as coastal areas were flooded; it has changed the dynamics of power with a strong, united empire in the middle east, northern expansion of Mexico, and the U.S. is embroiled in its second civil war. Fossil fuels have been banned, but a few break-away southern states continue to use them and to fight for independence. South Carolina is walled off in quarantine because of a deadly, inheritable virus that was used as a weapon of war.
The story revolves around the Chestnut family. When the father is killed by a suicide bomber, the family moves to a refugee camp. Here, nine-year-old Simon and six-year-old twins Dana and Sara (who calls herself Sarat) come of age. We watch as their experiences shape them, with Simon joining a rebel fighting unit and Sarat becoming a highly trained special operative. It is largely through her eyes that the story unfolds. And, it is a violent and tragic story of war. It's also a story of family bonds and enduring friendships. In fact, I found myself often thinking that if only her dad had lived.....how different everything in Sarat's life would be.
I read this for Canada Reads, and it's not what I usually read. So, I can't say I really liked it, but the writing is very good. The author can paint vivid pictures without resorting to long descriptive passages. The characters are so real....able to occasionally find humour and joy in terrible circumstances...able to look past actions that in other circumstances would be unforgivable...occasionally scared out of their wits or simply tired of it all. I think the strong writing makes this book something more than a typical sci-fi or action novel -- it tugged on my emotions.
I found that I could relate more to The Boat People - probably because really, we are all immigrants. I really enjoyed learning about the back history of Mahindan and loved how we got to see the process from many different sides. There are no right/wrong answers with this kind of thing and I think Bala captured that well.
I am close to getting Precious Cargo and Marrow Thieves but nowhere near the top of the list for Forgiveness so I might need to buy that one to read it in time.