Best Canadian Book: The 2021 Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards

I’m Canadian. (Surprise!) I’m also of the opinion that there are some great books coming out of Canada and from Canadian writers. Much of our media (movies, music, television) in Canada tends to be dominated by the United States but a lot of our book industry (not all) still stands as independent from our neighbours. As a Canadian and a reader, I always make an effort to read and support Canadian books and I’d like to highlight some of my favourite Canadian reads this year. When looking at this category, I decided to choose not just the Best Book by a Canadian but the book that I feel says something important to and for Canadians in 2021. Here we go!

Honourable Mention:

Blanket Toss Under the Midnight Sun – Paul Seesequasis

This book combines photography and writing to show a part of life in Canada that we don’t always hear about. Seesequasis has collected photos and stories of Indigenous communities – particularly in the North – in the mid-20th Century. His goal is to show what life was like, that it was happy and based in community and to demonstrate what families and communities were like.

This Place: 150 Years Retold

This is a graphic novel or, rather, a collection of graphic stories. Each one comes from a different author and illustrator but retells a portion of Canadian history from an Indigenous perspective, reminding us that there have been people and history here in Canada for much, much longer than European settlers. It is also an important reframing and new understanding of Canadian history, shining a light on the many abuses that the government and people have put Indigenous people through.

Forgiveness – Mark Sakamoto

Continuing the theme of Canadian atrocities….Sakamoto’s book is part memoir, part history. Through his family’s own story he tells a part of Canada’s. Our country’s role in World War II and the abuse that Japanese-Canadians suffered at that time. It is a hopeful book too though, showing what forgiveness can look like and what it means in a country of diversity like ours.

Butter Honey Pig Bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

This book highlights what I think is one of Canada’s strongest attributes. We are a country of diverse backgrounds. We are a country made of people who have come here from all over the world and from all kinds of places. While this novel isn’t entirely set in Canada, it’s a beautiful story of family and food and a glimpse at some of the reasons people come to Canada.

And the Winner is:

Five Little Indians – Michelle Good

If I had to pick a book from my reading this year that everyone in Canada should read, it would be this one. Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples and particularly our history of residential schools and genocide has been international news in 2021. For any person who might question why this is still a problem or why people can’t simply move on, I would say, Read this novel.

I read many excellent books by Canadians this year. Below are some books by Canadian writers that I really enjoyed but they simply didn’t fit into this category. (Reviews are linked in titles where applicable.)

Out of the Sun – Esi Edugyan

Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch – Rivka Galchen

Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A Womb in the Shape of a Heart – Joanne Gallant

Happy Hour – Marlowe Granados

What Strange Paradise – Omar El Akkad

How to Pronounce Knife – Souvankham Thammavongsa

We Want What We Want – Alix Ohlin

The Dogs Are Eating Them Now – Graeme Smith

Satellite Love – Genki Ferguson

Indians on Vacation – Thomas King

6 thoughts on “Best Canadian Book: The 2021 Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards”

  1. I totally did not realize Moreno-Garcia is a Mexican-Canadian author! My brain has already decided that it means something that she skipped over the U.S. and headed for our northern neighbors. You are right about how diverse Canadian residents are; most of us picture someone who looks and acts like Rick Moranis. Anne Logan recently recommended The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour, a new Canadian novel by an Indigenous person, but when I went to buy it, it wasn’t available in the U.S. I contacted the publisher and was like, “I JUST WANNA BUY YOUR BOOK.” So they changed some setting on their end, and I got it. I noticed on my credit card statement I had a 9 cent charge for something about buying a book from a different country, lol.

    1. I didn’t realize it either until I read the book and saw in her author blurb at the end that she lives in Vancouver. Wikipedia tells me that she was born in Mexico and moved to Canada as an adult.

      Haha! I forgot about Moranis! I just went down a bit of a rabbit hole to find out what happened to him – his wife died and he quit acting to take care of his kids!

      We are a very diverse country. In Canada we like to say that we are a mosaic rather than a melting pot. I’m glad you were able to get a hold of the book. How funny that you were charged extra and that it was only 9 cents!

    2. Yeah, Moranis became a single parent. Just recently he started acting again, and for reasons unknown to me, someone sucker punched him on the sidewalk. Why?? I mean, just, why????

  2. 5 Little Indians just keeps racking up the prizes, and now yours included! I really want to find time to pick up that book and read it, I just have to, it’s the Canadian thing to do.

    We are lucky to have such a vibrant publishing industry here in Canada, I can’t wait to see it grow even further.

    1. It’s not a perfect novel by any means but the content is so important. I’m glad to see it being so widely recognized and so many people reading it.

      Me too!

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