The heated debate over our downtown library branch renovation has got me thinking about Edmonton books. Now seemed as good of time as any to make a list of first-time Edmonton authors worth giving a chance. Here are a few I’ve discovered recently by picking up a copy at Audrey’s Books or at my local Edmonton Public Library branch. With the nice weather finally here, you could even consider them summer reads!
Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung
A Canada Reads finalist this year – this was the book I was rooting for to win. This year’s Canada Reads theme was “one book to move you” and Homes: A Refugee Story does just that. It is short and accessible, yet a powerful story of a refugee family told through the eyes of a young person, Abu Bakr al Rabeeah. He describes life in a war zone (horrific, unsettling experiences along with regular day to day family life) and their attempts to find safety from Iraq, to Syria and eventually settling right here in Edmonton.
You can’t help but be moved by Abu Bakr’s stories, which serve to remind us of our shared humanity. Given recent world events, and the urgent need to address the rise of hate, violence and anti-immigration movements, this is definitely the book I would have picked for all Canadians to read.
The Melting Queen by Bruce Cinnamon
Magical, surreal, smart and engaging; I powered through this book in one day. A genderfluid main character in an alternatively imagined Edmonton was exactly the story I needed to get through this cold cool spring.
The Melting Queen is everything Edmonton. While I didn’t grow up in Edmonton (so I’m sure there are many references I missed), his version of the city, its politics, its landmarks and its people, brought the Edmonton I know to life in a whole new way.
When I first heard about this book I figured I had to give it a shot. I’m sure glad I did and I sure hope there’s a second book to come from Bruce Cinnamon!
Little Yellow House: Finding Community in a Changing Neighbourhood by Carissa Halton
Little Yellow House is local community brought to life through a series of 24 personal stories. Inside you will find all things Alberta Avenue, a neighbourhood in Edmonton that I’ve personally spent a lot of time in, yet one that many other Edmontonians avoid due to its infamous reputation.
Carissa Halton is a talented story teller that draws you in. Her dynamic personality and rich sense of humour shine through in the stories she tells. It makes it an easy and enjoyable read.
If you’re looking for more local non-fiction you can also find Carissa’s contribution, along with 14 others, in the Edmonton anthology of personal essays:In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth & Reconciliation.
A Wake for Dreamland by Laurel Deedrick-Mayne
A local bestseller and award winner; I kept seeing this book everywhere around the city. War fiction isn’t normally something I’d be drawn to but I knew it contained local history and a queer story line so I finally gave it a go.
A Wake for Dreamland is very Edmonton. The story and characters effectively took me back to WW2 era Edmonton and Europe, which I appreciated. The author clearly did a lot of research on local history which added to the richness and authenticity of the story she tells.
I had moments where the story felt a bit long* and it felt like the book wraps up a bit too perfectly, but ultimately the characters drew me in to the story. It was a good read and good first book. Hopefully there is more to come from Laurel Deedrick-Mayne.
*Personally, I don’t do well with war violence and struggled to get through the brutality of some of tougher experiences of the characters while fighting in Europe. It served as a good reminder that ‘to remember is to work for peace’.
This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Edmonton has a lot of fantastic poets, but this collection by Billy-Ray Belcourt stands out. It’s beautiful, raw and real. Deeply intelligence and emotional; there is a reason it has won so many awards. If you’ve been wanting to give local poetry a chance, start here.
I first read This Wound is a World in 2017 when it came out and re-visited it after Billy-Ray’s fantastic sold-out Litfest appearance at the Aviary last year. Diving in to it was just as fantastic the second time, which is why I’m so excited for his next book coming this fall.
The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel by Patti LaBoucance-Benson, art by Kelly Mellings
This is an amazing, beautifully done, graphic novel first released in 2015. The Outside Circle is the story of a young Aboriginal man caught up in gang violence and ultimately the justice system. You can tell that this rich story is drawn from the author’s decades of work with Indigenous youth.
It’s a reminder of the long road we have to go towards reconciliation and of the lasting effects of decades of colonial politics on Indigenous peoples in Canada.
I know many teachers who now use it in their classroom, as it is a timely contribution to a tough topic, provided in an accessible format.
Patti LaBoucance-Benson is now a Senator for Alberta, so who knows perhaps we can hope for a political thriller for a second book!?
The Heart Begins Here by Jacqueline Dumas
This isn’t Jacqueline Dumas’ first book, but it’s her first published book in a quarter-century and the first of hers I’ve read, so I decided to include it at the end.
Taking place in 2001, The Heart Begins Here is a charming story about the struggles of the main character’s long-term lesbian relationship ending while also trying to keep her feminist bookstore afloat in Edmonton in the post-9/11 political climate.
Ultimately, it explores a changing book industry, politics, misogyny/homophobia, love, relationships, and starting over. At only 180 pages this didn’t take me long to get through. Jacqueline Dumas’ smart, humorous writing style made this a fun summer read.
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