Author: Katherena Vermette
Pub. Date: Sep. 2021 (read Oct. 2021)
I read and loved The Break several years ago, so I was really excited to see The Strangers on the long-list for the Giller Prize. I think this was my favourite of the four nominees I read, so I was a little disappointed not to see it make the short-list.
The Strangers focuses on 3 generations of metis women in the Stranger family, featuring 4 perspectives in total. The first two perspectives are from Phoenix and Cedar, sisters and some of the youngest members of the family. Phoenix is in a youth detention centre and Cedar has been bouncing around in foster care before settling in to live with her father’s new family. The other two perspectives are from Elsie, their mother, who suffers from a drug addiction and is continually trying to get clean, and Margaret, their grandmother (Elsie’s mother), who never quite got to live the life she wanted.
Vermette is a very accomplished writer. She had me hooked from chapter 1, which is so emotional and left me immediately gutted. The first two chapters are about Phoenix and Cedar and these two characters kept me captivated throughout the entirety of the novel. They both have two very different stories and I think the juxtaposition of their two lives is what made this narrative so compelling. Elsie’s storyline was probably my least favourite of the 4 as I found her narrative to be a bit repetitive, but the inclusion of her perspective is so important to the overall themes of the novel.
I liked Margaret’s storyline as well and found her to be a fascinating character, but it’s the only perspective that’s not told at the same time period as the rest of the characters. We get flashbacks from all characters, but none of Margaret’s story is told in present day, which I found made it feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the novel. Singularly, every single one of these perspectives is powerful, but I found the first 3 to work together as a more cohesive story. Margaret’s felt like it could have been it’s own narrative and while it added further context, it was somewhat separate from the rest, though still impactful.
But really this is a minor complaint. Multi-generational family dramas are my favourite kind of story and this is one that packs a punch. I was sad not to see this make the shortlist for the Giller, but so glad it’s still getting the praise it deserves! Definitely recommend checking this one out. Also, that cover art is gorgeous!! 4.5 stars.