I know. How Cancon of me. But I gotta say- it does get my knickers a bit knotted up to see how many American and British books are showcased in our English classes and how little Canadian content. So I have made it my informal, quasi-mission to find books from Canadian authors that could work for Grades 7 to 11 (11 not so much- they get a lot of Atwood and Ann-Marie Macdonald).
Here are the first two I think would be excellent.
Egghead by Caroline Pignat (perhaps instead of Stargirl in Grade 7?)
Pignat triangulates the typical bullying story from three different perspectives: the bully, the bullied and the bystander. Will is that awkward kid. You know. The one who doesn’t understand social cues. Who dresses weird. Who acts like an idiot without realising it. Katie is Will’s friend, or at least the closest thing he has to one, but he doesn’t make it easy. Devan is one of the gang of boys who follows Shane, the high school’s prime 9th grade bully. Lewis gets on Shane and co’s bully radar from day one when, in orientation, he is found in the middle of the gym, bent down staring intently at an ant. Katie tries to defend him, but no one else will come to his rescue. As the year progresses so does the bullying, until it reaches a tragic climax.
Written one part novel in verse for Will and in first person for both Katie and Devan, Pignat ‘s skillful, nuanced storytelling demonstrates how no situation is black and white. Everybody has a story we don’t know about that influences the way we act. The storyline is simple and familiar, making it accessible to a young audience. However, never does Pignat let the moral of her story (which is a heady one and most definitely present) interfere with the development of her characters.
Katie is especially interesting as the bystander. She wants to help Will, but at the same time she is embarrassed by him and worried about her own reputation in the school. She doesn’t always make the right choices though her heart is in the right place.
Egghead is a small but powerful book about bullying for about grade 5 to 7. I tried it with an older crowd and though they liked it, it wasn’t sophisticated enough for them- the story was too typical (something that works for the younger audiences) and the moral too obvious. Still, it would be a great classroom conversation starter not only on the subject of bullying but also as an example of voice.
Pluto’s Ghost by Sheree Fitch (perhaps instead of Perks of Being a Wallflower in Grade 9?)
I am going to just come out and say it. I loved this book. Told from the perspective of Jake Upshore, a train wreck of a teenage boy almost à la Holden Caulfield but for the small facts that he lives in small town Nova Scotia, he’s poor, learning disabled, a recovering alcoholic/addict and cobbled by his anger issues.
Here is a little bit of Jake’s voice:
“Murderer. It’s one kick in the belly of a word isn’t it? Has a taste, too. It tastes like barbed wire and has wild hyena eyes. Murderer. Murder-her. Did he? Did I? That’s when I remember what I want to forget.”
We first meet Jake in a cemetery where he is hauled away by the police. A body is taken away in an ambulance. We don’t know what he has done. We don’t know what happened. But slowly his story starts to unravel. It begins when he was five years old, the year his mother died and he met and fell in love with Sky Derucci, the smart, beautiful, daughter of the local police chief. Who, by the way, does not like Jake, not at all.
Now they are almost out of high school and are secretly seeing each other. But when Sky disappears suddenly with rumours that she is pregnant, Jake goes ballistic. He has to find her, he has to help. With only pages from her journal to guide him, he follows her and ends up on a journey where he must confront his own demons.
Fitch’s prose is fiercely lyrical, a roiling ocean of pathos and humour. The character of Jake so fleshed out, so beautifully flawed and self-sabotaging, so damn…lyrical (there is that word again) I could not put it down. Her ending though hopeful was not sitcom-y nor unrealistic. This is a coming of age story, a gorgeous, moving love story, heck it is almost poetry. Sheree Fitch has popped up on my radar with big neon letters, spelling YA CANLIT CANON!
Hmmm. I wish that had a better ring to it…
2 thoughts on “Two Great Canadian Youth Novels I think Should be Taught in the Classroom”
You know, don't you, that the absolutely only down side of knowing you is that you make my reading list totally unmanageable… much worse than it would be otherwise.
Yes, well, I like to share my pain. So many books, so little time!