Register Monday | March 4 | 2024

The Fall 2022 Book Room

Reviews of new work by Kate Beaton, Leah Mol, Adebe DeRango-Adem, Saeed Teebi, John Leroux and Emma Hassencahl-Perley

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

The Alberta oil sands are an isolated, insular place. It’s the kind of environment that can bring out the worst in people—but not always. Kate Beaton’s graphic novel and memoir Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (Drawn & Quarterly) is both a coming-of-age story and an insider’s look into one of Canada’s most contentious industries. As a young, fidgety university graduate, Beaton needed a way to pay off her student debt, and fast. The story follows her as she leaves her home in Cape Breton and spends two years living and working in Fort McMurray. Once there, she’s confronted with corporate greed and environmental disaster. Overt sexual harassment is omnipresent. However, she also often runs into other Atlantic Canadians whose dinner invitations and small gestures of care keep her afloat. Beaton’s illustrations masterfully capture the imprecise movements of regular people, and her infrequent use of panoramic shots poignantly illustrates the feeling of being away from home. Her characters are expressive even when the dialogue is sparse, and they become more cartoony and chaotic during moments of intense feeling. Beaton herself is poetic, stubborn, sarcastic and utterly charming—the perfect person to bring us into the heart of this world and deliver us safely out the other side.—Maddy Mahoney

Sharp Edges

Like everyone else her age, Katie just wants to be liked. In her debut novel, Leah Mol tells the story of a fifteen-year-old who lives with her hypochondriac single mother and is trying to process her father’s leaving. Mostly, she just feels alone. While trying to make new friends, Katie discovers a new world of partying, substance use and sex, along with all of its complications. But when she finds a BDSM website online, she’s amazed by a world where people can be free to desire whatever they want, draw their own boundaries without shame, and where she can—albeit briefly—subvert the balance of power that always seems to favour boys. “Online, I can call myself a slut, because being a slut just means being a woman who knows what she wants,” she thinks at one point. As Katie starts losing control, Mol conveys her constant stress and the newness of everything that comes with her youth without infantilizing her pain. Sharp Edges (Doubleday Canada) will remind you of the nightmares of being a teenager, and of how some of those worries actually never leave us alone.—Elif Kayali

Vox Humana

Adebe DeRango-Adem’s latest poetry collection is a carefully crafted account of voice and voicelessness. Vox Humana (Book*hug) is also a reed stop on the pipe organ, named for its similarity to the human voice. DeRango-Adem’s poems similarly channel intricate combinations of syntax, verbiage and enjambment—instrumentation—to express rage, grief, desire and hope in the face of pain.  “I will not use an ‘indoor voice’ / can’t speak / to your linguistic / system,” she writes. The collection is presented in three fugues (a word that denotes both a musical structure and a dream state), during which DeRango-Adem processes personal experiences alongside the traumas she has experienced as a Black woman. Throughout, she draws upon cultural, historical and political references that contextualize her perspective, interwoven with reflections on music from classical arias to Ariana Grande’s “God is a woman.” She spins her tale “to the decibels of my own joy / to exhume / each & every   mummified / voice” to “free them all into the future,” to “chant   their   golden     vicissitudes / &   dance in / audible     shapes.”—Shereen Lee

Her First Palestinian

In his debut short story collection, Saeed Teebi deftly touches upon many co-occurring crises. Each story centres a different set of mostly middle-class Palestinian-Canadians navigating unprecedented social or professional dilemmas. The intergenerational ramifications of the ongoing occupation of Palestine is a recurring theme as characters navigate work and family life. Stories like “Do Not Write About the King” and “Enjoy Your Life, Capo” juxtapose the prudent restraint of elders with the bold outspokenness of younger generations. Teebi grounds the collection with intriguing plotlines, nuanced characters and stunning prose, which serve to prevent later mentions of Covid-19 or the Black Lives Matter movement from feeling overwrought, too on the nose, or blatantly opportunistic. “The Reflected Sky” is an ambitious highlight, a story in which Teebi puts a unique twist on the concept of a staycation. He takes us from Toronto to Beirut by way of a sticky-note scavenger hunt pasted throughout the second-floor apartment of a copper-bricked, ivy-swathed, three-storey house. Her First Palestinian (House of Anansi) is an invitation to read the room and to engage critically as conversations about Palestine, familial and romantic relationships, and moral conflicts permeate the walls.—Yannick Mutombo

Wabanaki Modern

Before the late 1960s, Elsipogtog First Nation (then Big Cove) had never appeared on any of New Brunswick’s official maps. Wabanaki Modern (Goose Lane Editions) tells the story of the Mi’kmaw artists who brought prosperity and cultural resurgence to one of the largest and poorest reserves in New Brunswick, captivating the Canadian art world in the process. The book is about the artists who once called themselves the Micmac Indian Craftsmen (MIC), centring the work of Michael Francis, whose leadership was largely credited for the overwhelming success of the MIC. Francis’s style, which marries traditional images and ideas with modern forms, is exemplary of what made the MIC so popular, and his bold lines, geometric shapes and striking colours fill the pages. The text is divided into two sections: the first by art historian John Leroux, and the second by scholar and visual artist Emma Hassencahl-Perley. Mi’kmaw translation by Serena Sock and Mona Francis and French translation by Rachel Martinez run parallel throughout. Hassencahl-Perley writes, “story can help us in rebuilding or remaking ourselves in ongoing colonial settings.” Wabanaki ­Modern details an oft-forgotten Indigenous art revolution in Canada, enshrining the work of Wabanaki artists in wider public ­memory.—Nicky Taylor