Register Thursday | May 23 | 2024

The Spring 2023 Book Room


Em is a woman obsessed. Scavengers in her isolated village have discovered some fascinating notebooks in an abandoned house and she sets out on a quest to find their author. Adherent (Conundrum Press) is a graphic novel set in a dystopian world where sheltered residents fear what lies beyond their settlements. Cartoonist Chris W. Kim explores the human longing for purpose as the protagonist battles with her own uncertainty and wonders whether she is willing to leave everything she has ever known behind. She decides to use the journals to trace the author’s footsteps. “And what if there’s no end to it?” asks Em. The dialogue with the mysterious author is a constant push-pull. One needs constant movement and exploration, while the other is content with familiarity and routine. Most of the narrative’s heavy lifting comes from Kim’s black-and-white illustrations; his detailed yet dark illustration style draws the reader in. Kim’s novel will leave you wanting to know more about this strange, lethargic dystopia. It also holds a lesson: high expectations of others can lead to profound disappointment. —Hafsatou Balde


Our most meaningful moments and milestones can often stand out as separate eras in our lives, but combined, they make up a single story. An outstanding debut, archipelago (Book*hug) reads as though it was written not by one person, but a community of individuals with their own stories living on shared, connected land. Laila Malik’s poetry collection speaks to the struggle of immigrant children living dual lives. Tackling issues faced by women growing up in immigrant households surrounded by the external Western world, Malik is often playful, employing strong imagery and double meanings. Each poem is crafted to move the reader through the archipelago; Malik creates a journey by experimenting with the form of each poem, from the spacing of each line to the font of each letter. The shapes of the words themselves complement their definitions— the font might reflect either small whispers or loud outcries. This is not a collection of poems meant to be read just once: each line urges you to read it again and again. Both visually and emotionally, archipelago is a true masterpiece. —Sabra Ismath

The Whole Animal

One of the most difficult realities to face is that we are all flawed: that even the people we place on pedestals are only human. In The Whole Animal (Arsenal Pulp Press), Corinna Chong’s debut collection of short stories, readers are taken into imperfect people’s lives, following them as they find ways to regain a sense of autonomy after a loss—a divorce, losing a parent, or the destruction of a friendship. Chong deals in the day-to-day sense of grief, alienation and discovery we experience at different stages of our lives. In “Butter Buns,” a mother confides in her son about her abortion, disclosing to him that, “You don’t realize how hard it’s going to be until you have to do it. It can be the right decision, but it still feels like a loss.” Chong captures perfectly the feeling of being an outsider. In “Porcelain Legs,” a teen of Chinese background feels intense isolation as she grapples with her identity, beauty standards and the need to fit in. It’s easy to connect with Chong’s characters, but at times she leaves you wishing for a little more. Nonetheless, the collection makes you reflect—whether you want to or not. —Zainab Al-Mehdar

Really Good, Actually

Maggie is doing fine, really—as long as you ignore the frequent crying sessions, the fact that she contacts her ex nearly every day and the late-night spirals. Really Good, Actually (HarperCollins Canada) chronicles the year after divorce for Maggie, an academic in her late twenties living in Toronto. She dives into dating apps, self-care and hobbies like yoga and crafts to try to bring some semblance of normality back to her life. As the novel progresses, Maggie’s impending breakdown becomes more and more acute until she can escape it no longer. She says unforgivable things to her friends, live-tweets a wedding and cries every time she has sex. For some, her flaws and antics may stray on the side of too much, but the way Monica Heisey infuses Maggie’s voice with her signature relatability and humour will keep most readers until the very end. Really Good, Actually will be a standout hit for lovers of Fleabag and people who hide behind too many jokes. But anyone who loves an emotionally vulnerable tale tied together with a feel-good ending will enjoy this novel. —Alyssa Wu

The New Masculinity: A Roadmap for a 21st-Century Definition of Manhood

Alex Manley starts their new book by shuttling us all to common ground, united on something we can agree on: men are having a rough go. Something isn’t quite right—they’re being asked to let go of an outdated structure of masculinity that no longer fits, but there’s no real replacement yet. In the meantime, their behaviour is mostly bad. The New Masculinity (ECW) doesn’t propose an end to men, but it does propose ways in which they can become more human. Manley poses an important question: who would men be if they weren’t afraid? In a loving but direct tone, Manley moves through all the things men don’t do—listen when women speak, go down on them during sex, adequately wash their own buttholes–and constructs arguments around why and how they need to start doing these very things in order to move forward. If men can learn to connect again, to share their thoughts and feelings with each other, they’ll be on their way to happier, more fulfilled lives. The New Masculinity is a hopeful, refreshing look at the post-feminist possibilities that lie ahead of us all, and it’s a necessary how-to-guide for men and boys everywhere. —Sarah Ratchford