Book Reviews

What We Once Believed by Andrea MacPherson

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I knew that What We Once Believed (Caitlin Press, 2017) would speak to the feminist-mother in me when I read the epigraph, a poem by Catherine Barnett about mothering the mother and a quote from Muriel Rukeyser that asks: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”

What We Once Believed, the latest novel by British Columbia author Andrea MacPherson, provides a glimpse of such consequences—and they are both absorbing and complex. Continue reading

Just Jen by Jen Powley

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In Just Jen: Thriving through Multiple Sclerosis (Roseway, 2017), a book less than two hundred pages long, Jen Powley takes us on a trip that we wouldn’t otherwise experience. This is exactly what I want from a book: the opportunity to go on an unfamiliar journey.

I say this even though I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis sixteen years ago. But everyone’s journey with MS is different. Jen shows us the hard realities of MS with an easy, straightforward honesty and a great sense of humour. Along the way, we get to know this extraordinary woman as she wakes readers to the depth of relationships bound by this disease. Continue reading

Field Notes by Sara Jewell

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Ever since I met my “Upper Canadian” husband in my hometown of Fredericton at age twenty and moved to southern Ontario at twenty-one, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the Maritimes, as well as with rural and small-town life in general. At times, I have resented what I saw as its narrowness and stubborn attachment to the past. I can credit Sara Jewell and her Field Notes: A City Girl’s Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia (Nimbus, 2016) with adding more weight to the “love” side of the equation. Now back east, living in Halifax after seven years abroad, I’ve come to appreciate anew the warmth and hardiness of my birthplace. Field Notes reminds me of what I had lost and now regained. Continue reading

Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks

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When I received my copy of Writing Hard Stories by Melanie Brooks (forthcoming from Beacon Press, February 2017), I envisioned myself curled up in my comfortable armchair with coffee, settling in for a good long read. That was not to be—partly due to demands of a busy holiday season and introducing a new kitten to our family but mainly due the nature of Brooks’ book itself. It is not the sort of work that one can rush through, so I found myself reading one of her eighteen “interviews” per day, savouring the insights I gleaned and pondering how I could apply their lessons to my own writing

Although she grew up in New Brunswick, Brooks now lives in New England. It was while she was working on her MFA in creative nonfiction and planning the writing of a memoir based on her father’s death from AIDS contracted from tainted blood that she began to look into the works of memoirists who inspired her. She then got in touch with the writers directly to ask the questions that she was asking herself: What does it take to write an honest memoir? How can memoirists present the details of a painful past honestly and at the same time respect the privacy of friends and family? Those conversations became Writing Hard Stories. Continue reading

Tell by Soraya Peerbaye

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It took me four days to read Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: Poems for a Girlhood (Pedlar Press, 2015). By day three, I wasn’t sure I could follow through, so acute was my fear and respect for the tide of pain and loss on nearly every page.

Tell honours Reena Virk, assaulted and murdered by her peers in 1997; she was 14 years old. I was 14 in 1997, as well; our birthdays are only weeks apart. Perhaps “I’d have been her friend” (“Trials,” 10). In Grade Nine, I didn’t know any girls from South Asian families, but I had girlfriends who loved clog boots, who wore pleather jackets; girls who shouldered rumours, reputations, and threats too heavy for their age, their hearts and bodies—girls, in many ways, like Reena. Continue reading