Canada Reads Shortlist: The Break by Katherena Vermette

February 26, 2017     The Bluestocking Bookworm     Books, Reading

The Break by Katherena Vermette
350 pages
Published: September 17, 2016 by House of Anansi Press

About the Book: When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

About the Author: Katherena Vermette is a Canadian writer, who won the Governor General’s Award for English-language poetry in 2013 for her collection North End Love Songs. Vermette is of Metis descent and from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was a MFA student in creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

Her children’s picture book series The Seven Teachings Stories was published by Portage and Main Press in 2015. In addition to her own publications, her work has also been published in the literary anthology Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water. She is a member of the Aboriginal Writers Collective of Manitoba, and edited the anthology xxx ndn: love and lust in ndn country in 2011.

Vermette has described her writing as motivated by an activist spirit, particularly on First Nations issues. The title of her book refers to Winnipeg’s North End.

About the defense – Candy Palmater: In her own words: “I’m a gay Native recovered lawyer turned feminist comic, who was raised by bikers in the wilds of northern New Brunswick.” Candy Palmater attended the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, where she is said to have been the first Aboriginal law student in Canada to be valedictorian of her graduating class. After a brief stint practicing labour and Aboriginal law, Palmater left for a job with the Nova Scotia government, which left her evenings free to pursue her comic ambitions. She created and wrote her own national TV show, The Candy Show, for APTN, and hosted the daily interview series The Candy Palmater Show on CBC Radio in 2016.

Why Candy Palmater thinks The Break is the book Canadians need now: It’s a very cold winter night in inner-city Winnipeg, and young Stella looks out the window and sees a crime taking place, and she calls the police. From there, a very well-crafted, well-written book, a story that will not let you go but will tell you the story of different generations of Indigenous women. You get to know not just the victim but the perpetrator, and you understand how colonization has created this entire situation. Every Canadian needs to read this to understand relations.

My initial thoughts: This book makes me nervous. Last year, I read Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, and I did not connect with it at all. Which is very OK, because I feel like a book like Birdie, and maybe even like The Break, are not for people like me to connect with. As a white person, I will forever be on the other side of the issues facing Indigenous people in Canada. But, I am very excited to read a story set in a familiar landscape – that of my own city.

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