The Island of Sea Women

Rating: 
Author: Lisa See
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub date: Mar. 5, 2019 (read Jan. 2019)

I read The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane back in 2017 and really liked it. I’ve been meaning to read some more of Lisa See’s work ever since, but the content is quite heavy, so I keep putting it off. So when I received an early copy of The Island of Sea Women from Simon and Schuster Canada, I was excited to finally read another one of Lisa’s books!

I clearly need to prioritize reading some of her earlier works because I liked this just as much as I like the Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, maybe more!! The Island of Sea Women is about a matrifocal community of female divers on Jeju Island. Jeju Island is a large volcanic island located to the south of South Korea. It was under the control of the Japanese until the end of WWII, when it was taken over by the Americans.

What’s interesting about the island and many of its communities, is that they are mostly focused on women. Many of the traditional gender structures still exist in that men own property, the ownership is passed down through the male line, and giving birth to boys is valued because only boys can attend school and perform ancestor worship. However, the women are viewed as the providers and decision makers and the men stay home and raise the children. This is because it is the women on the island who become Haenyeo. Haenyeo are a collective of divers who are widely respected. They row offshore every day to dive in the frigid ocean for sea-life to feed their family and to sell to wealthy Japanese colonizers. The most prized catch is the abalone, but they also dive for sea urchins, octopus, squid, and other species.

See focuses her story on Young-sook. Young-sook is the daughter of a Haenyeo chief, so she learns to dive from an early age and develops a very close friendship with another girl in the community, Mi-ja. The two girls are inseparable and both join the Haenyeo collective when they come of age and travel together as young women to do leave-home diving work. However, as they grow older, their friendship is challenged and circumstances arise to drive a wedge between the two women. This book tells Young-sook’s life story, her friendship with Mi-ja, and the sad history of Jeju Island.

I was really interested in the Haenyeo culture and how they work together as a collective. I thought it was fascinating the ways that traditional gender roles were sometimes switched in this culture, but remained similar in other ways. I find diving to be fascinating (and terrifying) and I really liked learning about the Haenyeo traditions, how they would organize and dive together, and how resilient these women are. But what I really loved about this book was the way it also takes us through South Korea’s history.

I read Min Jin Lee’s book, Pachinko, last year and really liked it. It’s about a Korean family that immigrates to Japan and the challenges they faced there as immigrants. It was a good introduction the the history between Korea and Japan. This book also focuses on that conflict, but from a different angle and perspective; between the two books I learned a lot about Korea and Japan. The history covered in this book is upsetting to be sure, but it is a very good look at how Western countries can tear other countries apart in their own political disputes. Korea was split at the end of WWII, to be governed by the Soviet Union in the North and America in the South. Russia obviously promoted communism and America, democracy.

As everyone knows, American’s were extremely threatened by the rise of communism. I’m still not super familiar with Korea’s history, but from this book, it seems that there was support for communism on Jeju Island, which created conflict between the island and the rest of the Korean mainland. Rebel groups popped up among the mountain tribes on Jeju Island and fighting ensued between rebel groups and the authorities. Korea had a culture of guilt by association, whereby if a member of your family committed a crime, you were considered tainted by association. This resulted in consequential killings in which families and entire communities might be punished for the actions of an individual. The Jeju uprising officially began on April 3, 1948, and resulted in the destruction of many villages and left many people homeless.

I’ll admit, I know very little about Korea’s history, but I loved learning about it from Young-sook’s point of view. The people of Jeju had always had a tumultuous relationship with the Japanese and she observed that little changed within their communities with the end of WWII and that their power mostly just changed hands between the Japanese and the Americans. Young-sook observes that they have always been oppressed, but that Korean’s always looked after one another. However, because of differing ideologies between a democratic and communist state, she was upset to see Korean’s start to turn on one another.

From this setting, we also see how the Haenyeo were forced to change and adapt over the years and the impact the conflict had on their diving activities. The Haenyeo are still very popular, but more as a tourist attraction. The birth of daughters was also celebrated on Jeju as it ensured the financial stability of the family. However, very few girls are training to become Haenyeo these days and the collective has greatly aged, with few young women to take their places. I loved how See balances the challenges and changes to the collective along with the changing and increasingly challenging political climate on the island. It also linked in with Young-sook’s changing relationship with Mi-ja. While the novel takes us through 70 years of Korean history, at it’s core, it is a story about friendship and forgiveness.

As much as I loved this book, I do have one criticism, which is what brought my rating down from 5 stars to 4 stars. The story is told in 5 parts and progresses pretty naturally through time. However, each part starts with a flash forward to 2008. While I see some value in the 2008 timeline, I think it would have worked better as a short epilogue focused on remembering the April 3 incident and finding peace. I did not like the inclusion of Clara in the story. While Young-sook struggles with her feelings and forgiveness throughout the second half of the novel, I felt this last storyline came too late in the story and timeline. Personally, I thought the ending felt forced and manipulative. I felt like the author was trying to manipulate me into this cathartic moment at the end, but the catharsis was too late in coming and not believable to me.

Despite the ending, I still loved this book. Though the story focuses on Young-sook, I loved the exploration of Mi-ja’s story as well. The history and decisions of some of the characters were upsetting, culminating at the April 3 incident. However, I felt that they demonstrated how things can change in an instant and how in life and death situations, what might have been a well-meaning action or decision can be interpreted in the aftermath. It’s a somber realization, but it was the defining moment of Young-sook and Mi-ja’s relationship. I would definitely recommend this book.

The Island of Sea Women will be available for purchase in stores on Mar. 5th, 2019. Thanks to Scribner and Simon and Schuster Canada for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Books I Can’t Wait to Read in 2019

Mystery/Thrillers

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – Sep. 5, 2019
I’ve read every book Ruth Ware has written and I will be reading this one too! I don’t think Ware is the best mystery writer out there, but I find her books so compulsively readable that I’m always thrilled to pick up a new one! Especially because this one sounds SO GOOD! It’s about a woman who takes a live-in Nanny job in the Scottish highlands, which she thinks is going to be a dream job and ends up being a nightmare that lands her in prison for a murder she didn’t commit! This sounds so intriguing and I can’t wait to read it! Goodreads says this book is coming out in early Sep, but Edelweiss is listing the release date as Aug. 6, so we’ll just have to wait and see!

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney – May 16, 2019
Alice Feeney only has one other book, Sometimes I Lie, but I read it last year with my book club and we all loved it! I was really impressed with it as a debut novel and it had so many twists that I did not see coming at all! I know Who You Are is about actress Aimee Sinclair. She has a fight with her husband one day and then comes home to find him missing. The next day, she goes to the bank to find $10,000 missing from her account – the kicker is that she is the person who supposedly emptied the account. Suddenly her life is turned upside down and nothing is as it seems.

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager – Jul. 2, 2019
Last year and read and enjoyed Riley Sager’s second thriller novel, The Last Time I Lied. I haven’t read his debut novel yet, but I’m planning to read both Final Girls and his new book, Lock Every Door. Lock Every Door is about Jules Larson, who takes a job apartment-sitting at the mysterious Bartholomew building. At first, Jules likes the job, but when her fellow apartment-sitter disappears and she learns about Bartholomew’s dark, hidden secrets, she must race to uncover the buildings hidden past and save her friend!

Historical Fiction

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See – Mar. 5, 2019
I’m cheating a bit on this book because I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC and I have already read it, but I’m including it anyways because it releases in March and fans of Lisa See will not be disappointed! The Island of Sea Women is set on Jeju Island in South Korea and takes us through 70 years of history – from the 1930’s to the 2000’s. Jeju Island’s culture is focused around women – where they are the core providers for their families and the men stay home and take care of the home and children. It tells the story of Young-sook and her friend Mi-ja, who are both part of the Haenyeo collective of divers who make a living diving for sealife in the fridgid sea.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Mar. 5, 2019
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo took Booktube by storm last year! I read it back in 2017 with my book club and also loved it – so I’m so excited to pick this one up later this year. Daisy Jones and the Six is about solo singer Daisy Jones and popular band, The Six. I’m not totally clear on the plot of the novel, but it’s set in the 70’s and is guaranteed to include all of the drama of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. I loved how diverse Evelyn Hugo and how good of a story teller Taylor Jenkins Reid is, so I can’t wait to read this one too!

The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia – Apr. 16, 2019
This is a lesser promoted novel that I stumbled upon on Netgalley and became immediately intrigued with. It’s by a Mexican author and has actually been published since 2015, but the English translation is being released in April. It’s about an abandoned baby that was found under a bridge and the impact he has on the small village. It’s set during the Mexican Revolution and the outbreak of the spanish influenza in 1918 and this setting is what really intrigued me about the book. I already have a copy of this from Netgalley and I’m looking forward to learning more about this period of Mexican history.

Fantasy

Romanov by Nadine Brandes – May 7, 2019
Romanov is a historical fantasy novel about Anastasia Romanov. It re-imagines history where instead of Anastasia dying, she was tasked with smuggling out a spell on her way to Siberia that might be the only thing that could save her condemned family. I don’t really know much more about the story, but I’ve always been a little obsessed with Anastasia and I pretty much only had to hear the words “Anastasia” and “fantasy” and I was in. In discovering this book, I also discovered that Brandes has another historical fantasy novel about Guy Fawkes plot to blow up the British government, Fawkes, which I must now also add to my TBR because that also sounds amazing!

Sherwood by Meaghan Spooner – Mar. 19, 2019
This is another book where I read a really short description of the book and was immediately like, “I have to read this.” Sherwood is basically a gender-bent retelling of Robin Hood. In this version, Robin Hood is dead and his betrothed, Maid Marion is bereft. The people of Nottingham are greatly suffering, especially with the loss of their hero. In her desire to help her people, she dons Robin’s green cloak and is mistaken to be him. The people are desperate for a saviour and Marion decides to do her best to help them.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi – Jan. 15, 2019
This one comes out today, so we don’t even have to wait for it anymore! I am totally shocked at myself for including The Gilded Wolves on this list because I strongly disliked Chokshi’s other book, The Star-Touched Queen, but the plot just sounds so good that I’ve decided to give her another try! The Gilded Wolves is set in Paris in the late 1800’s and is being compared to Six of Crows, which I absolutely loved! It’s about a rag-tag group of people who assemble to hunt a lost artifact for an all-powerful society through the street of Paris. It’s received really good early reviews and I’m definitely intrigued to read it!

Young Adult

With Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – May 7, 2019
As with many of the books on this list, I’m excited to read this upcoming release because I read Acevedo’s novel, The Poet X, last year and loved it! Along with the story, I really liked that the Poet X was written in prose. There’s no indication on the synopsis of With Fire on High that it will also be written in prose, but it still sounds really good. It’s about a teen mom who loves to cook but struggles to make ends meet and care for her abuela. She dreams of taking her school’s culinary class, going on the class trip to Spain, and one day working in a real kitchen. Can she turn any of these dreams into reality?

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan – Feb 12, 2019
I stumbled upon this new release on Netgalley as well and while I wasn’t approved for an ARC on this one, I’m really excited to read it when it comes out in February. It’s about two high school students who are frustrated with the status quo at their school and start a Women’s Rights Club. They get a lot of positive support when they start the club, but they are eventually targeted by online trolls who threaten their club and their voices. I’m here for any and all YA books on feminism so I can’t wait to read this. What makes me more excited is that the two girls on the cover are black and white, so I’m hoping this will be a more intersectional, feminist read than some other similarly plotted books that I’ve read in the past.

Internment by Samira Ahmed – Mar. 19, 2019
This is another book I’m a little surprised to include on the list because I read Ahmed’s debut novel, Love, Hate, and Other Filters, last year and did not like it. But I don’t want to judge an author by one book, especially their debut, so I’m excited to give this one a try, which sounds WAY different than her first novel. Internment is a dystopian novel about teenager Layla Amin, whose family is forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. Do I really need to say more? It’s set in the near-future and I think we can all agree that with the current president, anything is really possible, so I’m intrigued what social commentary Ahmed is going to make about the current political climate. I actually just received an ARC for this one, so I’m planning to read it soon.

Non-Fiction

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West – May 7, 2019
This is a bit of a longer list than I usually make, but there’s just so many good books coming out this year! Lindy West’s new book OBVIOUSLY has to be on this list because just everything about it screams something I must read. I really like Lindy’s writing (along with Jessica Valenti and Laurie Penny) and I’m a here for a book about how the “patriarchy, intolerance, and misogyny have conquered not just politics but American culture itself.” It sounds like this book is going to cover a lot of topics, from the 2016 election to the #MeToo movement, I can’t wait to read West’s observations and critiques.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – Mar. 12, 2019
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak was published 20 years ago and was monumental in discussing the impacts of rape and sexual assault. She has published many other books since then, although I’ll admit, Speak is the only one of her books I’ve read. Shout is going to be a memoir collection of poems and essays about sexual assault, the progress we’ve made, and some personal anecdotes from the author’s personal life. It sounds like a really great anthology and I’m interested to see what the author has to say 20 years after the publication of her ground-breaking novel.

December Summary

I got so caught up in the New Year that I totally forgot to do my monthly summary for December! I’m not sure if I will continue these into 2019 or not, but I wanted to do the last one to finish off for 2018. Here’s what I read:

Books read: 8
Pages read: 2,736
Main genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Favourite book: The Feather Thief

December is always a bit of a slower month because I go home for Christmas to visit my family. But I still managed to read 8 books. I started off with my favourite read of the month, The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This was a huge surprise to me seeing as The Feather Thief is about a guy who steals 300 bird carcasses from the Natural History Museum in order to sell the feathers to fly-tiers, but it was strangely compelling. I read it on Audible and I thought the narrator did a great job and I was totally enthralled with this little known heist for the entirety of the novel. Definitely recommend for history buffs.

I finally read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which has been on my TBR for ages. It’s historical fiction about female pilots in WW2 that is widely loved in the YA community. I didn’t love it quite as much as I expected, but I followed it up with the companion novel, Rose Under Fire, which I actually ended up liking a lot more. The second book is about notorious women’s concentration camp, Ravensbruck, and while it’s very upsetting, I thought it was really well written.

I read two mystery novels, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, and Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie. Truly Devious has been lauded all over Booktube and I was totally blown away by how much I DISLIKED it. I’m actually shocked by how many people love this book because I thought it was poorly written, poorly plotted, and extremely juvenille. I really wanted to love it, but it was a huge disappointment. I didn’t have too many thoughts on Murder in Mesopotamia. It wasn’t my favourite Agatha Christie, but still a fun 3-star read.

About a week before I was due to head home for the holidays, I received an early copy of The Wicked King by Holly Black from Hatchette. I was really excited to read this one because I’ve heard a lot of good things about it and as someone who liked, but didn’t love, The Cruel Prince, I was interested to see if the sequel was any better. I still didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else, but I did like it better than the first book and I am now pretty desperate for the final book!

Finally, I read two books while I was home for Christmas. I finally picked up Wildcard by Marie Lu, the sequel to Warcross, and read pretty much the entire book on the plane on the way home. Unfortunately, this was another disappointing book. I LOVED Warcross last year and while I still liked parts of Wildcard, I thought it was overwritten, with the plot being overly complicated and action for the sake of action. I finished off the year with the final book in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy, Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han. I didn’t love the conclusion as much as the first book, but overall I think this is a really strong contemporary series and I can’t wait to watch the sequel on Netflix this year!

Keeping Lucy

Rating: ⭐
Author: T. Greenwood
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub date: Aug 6, 2019 (read Jan. 2019)

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’m a little on the fence of how to rate this book. I read Rust & Stardust last year and really liked it, so I was excited to receive a copy of T. Greenwood’s newest book, Keeping Lucy, in hopes of learning more about a period of history I didn’t know much about. I did like this book and I did learn something, but I didn’t like it quite as much as Rust & Stardust because I felt it lacked in plot.

Finding Lucy is about a family from Massachusetts in the 1970’s whose second child is born with down synodrome. Down syndrome has a sad history in the United States and the delivery doctor strongly recommended enrolling the baby, Lucy, in an institution that could better see to her needs. Her mother, Ginny, was excluded from the decision to give up the baby and years later, she struggles with the loss of her little girl. When Lucy is two years old, a journalist publishes an expose about Willowridge, Lucy’s school, that reveals the deplorable living conditions in which the children are kept. Ginny is horrified and upset by the article and travels to Willowridge for the first time to see the conditions for herself and meet her daughter.

Greenwood definitely has a unique style of writing. It is very simple and straight forward, but does an excellent job of making you feel acutely uncomfortable and anxious. Rust & Stardust was about the kidnapping of Sally Horner, the young girl who inspired Lolita, and made me feel so anxious and frustrated about the way Sally was manipulated and treated. I had a similar reaction to Keeping Lucy in that I found this part of history shocking, I was frustrated by the way the health and justice system worked in the 1970’s, particularly in how it ignores the agency of women, and I was so anxious about the decisions the characters made and the potential ramifications. I flew through the book, reading about 75% of it on a lazy saturday.

I liked that this looked at a disturbing and lesser known part of history, but unfortunately I was a little disappointed in the execution. I was expecting this book to focus on Willowridge, the poor living conditions, the pursuit of justice against the institution, and the fight for custody of the children and for people with Down Syndrome to be recognized as people with a full set of rights. Willowridge is not a real place, but I trust it was imagined based on other similar institutions. Likewise, Ginny is not a real person, but I imagine there are parents out there who unknowningly were advised to send their babies off to similar institutions. In Ginny’s case, she was more or less blindsided by her husband and father-in-law, which plays a large role in the story.

I liked Ginny’s story arc in that it highlights how little agency women had in their lives and relationships. But overall I felt the author missed an opportunity to write a more historically meaningful plot. In order for the babies to be committed to the institution, parents essentially gave up their custody rights to the state. Once the story got going, I was expecting for this to be a story about Ginny’s battle with the state to save her daughter and regain custody while fighting against the antiquanted and sexist beliefs of her father in law, who thought he was entitled to make decisions for his son and family. The story provided a great look at how the patriarchy robbed women of any power or agency and the gender dynamics that often existed in families at this time. But ultimately this story was not about a custody battle, but rather was a drawn out road trip in which Ginny tries to escape with her daughter and the trials she faces as a single woman/mother in rural America. It was an interesting story with a surprising amount of action, but meaningless in that while I understood Ginny’s desperation, her actions were drastic and not realistic. I know Ginny was only try to save her daughter from being returned to Willowridge, but her actions were short sighted and actually really harmful to the result that she wanted. She’s applauded at the end for her good motherly instincts, which I thought pretty rich because she basically just ran away from any responsibility.

Ginny and Martha made a lot of bad decisions that I felt there was really no coming back from. I disliked the ending because I thought it was extremely unlikely and absolved Ginny of any wrongdoing. (view spoiler) What I really wanted to hear about was the struggle all those other families went through in gaining custody of their children and what legal actions were taken against the institutions for their neglect. People with Down Syndrome had to fight for their legal rights, care, and education, and I would have much preferred to learn more about that.

The story did hold my interest throughout the whole book and I sped through it, but the longer GInny and Martha spent on the road, the more I wondered what the whole point was. I didn’t expect them to be on the run for so long and I was really surprised when it ended up being the main plotline of the story. This is a fascinating part of history and I really just wish we had gotten a different story. I won’t fault the author because she did still deliver on a fast paced and interesting story, but personally, it just wasn’t the story I was hoping for and I thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity. I’m still giving it 3 stars because I did learn something and I thought the writing was pretty good, but overall it just left me wanting more.

Top 10 Books of 2018

I read over 100 books this year, so it is incredibly hard to narrow the list down to just 10 books! I really like reading new releases and this year almost half of all the books I read were published in 2018, so like last year, I’ve decided to publish two lists. This will be my top 10 favourite books that were published in 2018, and my second follow up post with be my top 5 favourite books that I read in 2018, but were published in other years. Without further ado, here’s my top 10 of 2018, in order this year!

10. Sadie by Courtney Summers

Sadie has been making waves this year and was my first Courtney Summers book. I started reading it on a 3 day kayak trip and was totally enthralled with it the entire weekend. It’s a powerful read, but one of the things I actually liked most about it was the format. Sadie tells the story of a young woman named Sadie – when her sister turns up dead, Sadie disappears from town and goes on a mission to track down her sister’s killer. What made the format so unique was that half of the book is told in the style of a podcast investigating what happened to Sadie, while the other half is told from Sadie’s point of view as she moves through rural America trying to track down the killer. The podcast reminded me a lot of Serial and I thought it made for a really interesting and dynamic read. Summers doesn’t hold back any punches in this story and it’s really a book about how girls and women disappear and are murdered far too often. I can’t take another dead girl.

9. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Astonishing Color of After was a bit of a slower read compared to some of the other books on this list, but is the writing and the story ever beautiful! It tells the story of Taiwanese-American teenager, Leigh, whose mother has committed suicide. In her grief, Leigh believes that her mother has come back as a bird and is trying to communicate with Leigh. In an effort to learn more about her mother, she decides to take a trip to Taiwan for the first time to meet her grandparents. The story is filled with magical realism and is a beautiful coming of age story about grief, mental health, the pains of growing up, and the importance of chasing after the things that you love. I really liked the portrayal of mental health and depression and how anyone can be impacted by them and how there’s often no rhyme or reason to why someone might suffer from depression. I loved the cultural aspects that were woven into this story as well as Leigh’s relationship with her friend Axel and how it evolves throughout the story. Mostly though, I just loved this for the beautiful writing and would definitely recommend to anyone!

8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage has been featured on pretty much every “must read books of 2018” list I’ve seen on the internet and was featured in Oprah’s book club, so I was intrigued to read it. It’s about a newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, who’s marriage is abruptly cut short when Roy is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and incarcerated for 12 years. They try to maintain their marriage, but 12 years is a long time and Celestial starts to drift away from Roy. However, when Roy gets a surprise early release after 5 years, everyone’s lives are thrown into turmoil. Celestial has moved on and is unsure what to do in the face of her husband’s release. Roy on the other hand, is still hugely invested in Celestial and wants to give their marriage another shot. It’s a thought provoking novel on the justice system and what it means to be black in America. I really liked it because there were no easy choices for the characters and it was a critical look at the impact prison can have on the individual and their greater family and community.

7. Saga, Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples

I’ve been reading Saga for the last two years, but for some reason, Volume 8 hit me a lot harder than any of the other volumes. I also read Volume 9 this year, which I liked, but didn’t love, but something about Volume 8 struck me differently. Saga is a graphic novel series about an intergalactic romance between two soldiers on opposing sides, Alana and Marko. The series starts off with them giving birth to their daughter, Hazel, and the entire series is them gallivanting around the galaxy trying to avoid all the individuals that think their marriage and relationship is an abomination. Volume 8 deals with abortion and I think it’s one of the reason’s why I liked it so much. The whole series is incredibly diverse and examines a number of different relevant social issues, and this issue looks at some of the reasons why women and couples decide to have abortions and why all reasons are valid. Overall, I would highly recommend the series, I’ll just put a disclaimer that the series does include a lot of sex and nudity.

6. The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker

To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery to me why I liked this book as much as I did. Maybe I was just in the mood for a good romance, but I think it was because this was one of the rare New Adult books that I could actually relate to. I find there’s a huge gap in literature between stories about teenagers and stories about adults. There’s not a lot of great books about people in their mid-twenties and this book really that need. The Simple Wild is about 26 year old Calla. She grew up with her mom in Toronto, but she’s been estranged from her father, who is an Alaskan bush pilot, since she was 2. When she finds out her father has cancer, she decides to finally make the trip up to Alaska to meet him. She’s never understood her father’s life or why he would never leave his job to be with her and her mother. She finally has the opportunity to get to know him a little better, but fears it may be too late. At the same time, she meets her father’s best pilot, Jonah, and despite having almost nothing in common, they strike up a friendship that evolves mostly out of the two of them teasing one another. I’m not going to lie, I totally fell in love with Jonah, but this book has so much more going for it than just romance. I’m obsessed with any book set in Alaska and this was a great story about taking risks, getting out of your comfort zone, and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

5. Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad is a collection of stories about rape and rape culture that definitely needed to be told. I listened this anthology as an audiobook and I thought every single essay added something valuable to the collection and as a whole, the essays were extremely diverse. The premise of the book is that any story about rape, assault, or rape culture deserves a space and to be heard. People often refrain from sharing the things that have happened to them because they think they are not that bad compared to what has happened to other people they known. Gay wants to break down that idea that there is any kind of scale for breaking down the things that happen to us. Every story is that bad and every pain deserves to be acknowledged. It is only by sharing our stories that it becomes evident just how pervasive and widespread rape culture is. Your voice deserves to be heard – what happened to you is that bad – there is no hierarchy of pain and we acknowledge you.

4. Women Talking by Miriam Toews

This was my first Toews book, but I was totally blown away by it. It’s a short and simple book, but so startling in it’s honesty. Women Talking is based on a Mennonite community in rural Bolivia where the women were continuously subjected to sexual assault in secret by members of the community. They were not believed and were told that they were being punished for their sins. Eventually it came out that several men in the community had been knocking the women out with animal anesthetic and raping them in their sleep and they were arrested. This is the re-imagined conversation that took place between the women in deciding how to move forward from this ordeal. As they see it, they have three options: they can do nothing, stay and fight, or they can leave. It is extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking. Even though these characters are imagined, I was inspired by the women and their ability to forgive, love one another, and use humour to move on with their lives.

3. Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Okay, now we’re into the top 3! It’s hard to organize the lower end of this list because I liked all those books but they’re not the top books that stand out to me and it’s difficult to rank them. But the top of list is easier because they were my favourite books that I read this year, starting with Wundersmith, the sequel to Nevermoor. The Nevermoor series is a new middle grade fantasy series that I am obsessed with. I’ve compared it multiple times to Harry Potter, not because it’s like Harry Potter, but because it reminds me of all the things I loved about Harry Potter and in how it makes me feel. Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, destined to die on the eve of her 11th birthday. But instead, she is whisked away by enigmatic Jupiter North to the land of Nevermoor, which is filled with magic and flying umbrellas and gigantic talking cats. It is such a fun series filled with so much whimsy! The world building is incredible and the plot is clever and has a lot of depth. I am in love with the characters and the world Jessica Townsend has created and I cannot wait to see where she takes this series in the future!

2. Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Our Homesick Songs took me totally by surprise. It’s historical fiction about Newfoundland’s cod fishery and the moratorium in 1992. It’s about family, community, loneliness, music, and love of place. The Connor family has always lived in the small rural, island town of Big Running and has  always survived off the cod fishery. When the fish disappear, many families are forced to make tough decisions about their future and leave their homes in search of work on the mainland. Aidan and Martha try and avoid that fate for their children, Cora and Finn, and instead decide to share a job at one of the camps in Northern Alberta. But as their community slowly disappears, Cora and Finn struggle with the changes to the life they’ve always known and the hole in their community. As a Newfoundlander, this book spoke to a part of my soul and I absolutely fell in love with Hooper’s writing style. I can see how it might not work for everyone, but her writing evoked such a feeling of homesickness that I felt I’d just moved right into the pages with Cora and Finn and Aidan and Martha. It’s a beautiful story about family and community and the links that tie us together. It’s a heartbreak story that was a reality for many Newfoundland families and I thought Hooper did a wonderful job of transporting her readers back to this time and place. I love the way she tied music into the story and I know this family will stick with me for a long time.

  1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

And the number one spot goes to The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I read this book back in June and nothing has been able to top it since. It was an extremely emotional, but enjoyable, reading experience and even 6 months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Setting is everything for me in this novel. The Great Alone is set in Alaska in the 1970’s and focuses on the Albright family: Ernt, Cora, and their daughter Leni. Ernt is a POW from the Vietnam War and suffers from PTSD. He’s worried about the direction the government is going and in an effort to get back to the land, moves the family to the small town on Kaneq in Alaska. They move in the height of summer and Leni is totally enamoured with the landscape and their hand to mouth existence. It’s hard work to survive in Alaska and the sense of purpose and the long summer days keep Ernt’s PTSD at bay. However, when the long winter starts, Ernt’s demons start to get the better of him and Leni begins to wonder if she’s more at risk from the dangers lurking outside her door or from the dangers lurking within. It is a heartbreaking story, but Hannah creates such a sense of place and community that I just totally fell in love with. The writing is beautiful and every character is so well imagined and developed. A wonderful story about family and community, but also about the challenges women faced in the 1970’s and still face today.