BOOK REVIEW | Canada Reads #4 – The Break by Katherena Vermette

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
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.

My thoughts:
Wow. It’s not enough, but it’s almost all I can say after reading Katherena Vermette’s The Break. This book is heavy and dark, but it’s also so incredibly important. It was necessary for me, as a Canadian, to read a story about my country from a perspective that is different than my own. I love the Canada Reads competition so much, because it brings stories like this to a greater audience. I actually picked this book up ages ago after Margaret Atwood recommend it on Reco, and I am so glad I finally got around to reading it.

The story opens with Stella, shaken and afraid, providing two police officers with the details of a very violent crime that she saw take place through her window in the middle of the night. The officers have different opinions on the information they get from Stella – the older assuming it’s just gang violence, and the younger sensing that something more vicious has taken place. What follows is a perfectly crafted account of not only the crime, but everything that surrounds it. Vermette dives into social issues, gang violence, police apathy, racism, alcoholism, spousal abuse, and what it means to live life in a broken system. It’s gritty, it’s bleak, it’s real.

The book is broken up into four sections, each containing a chapter narrated from the perspective of a different family member, as well as one of the police officers involved in the story. There are many characters to keep track of, but the family tree at the beginning of the book keeps everyone and their lineage clear. This could have become convoluted, but the opposite happened for me – as I discovered the familial connections I began to feel personally intertwined in their lives, almost a part of the family.

The Break should be compulsory reading for Canadians. If anything I mentioned in this review speaks to you, please go and get this book. While the book is  heartbreaking and raw, Vermette keeps the focus on the healing power of family and tradition. An absolutely stunning debut from a writer I will be watching.

Read my review of Fifteen Dogs
Read my review of Nostalgia
Read my review of Company Town

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BOOK REVIEW | Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens

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4.5/5 stars

Release Date: March 14, 2017

*I received a digital advanced review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

From the publisher:
The author of Still Missing targets her readership with a novel that hits all the notes they come to expect from her—and ratchets up the stakes even more. Lindsey Nash has left an abusive relationship and her ex-husband was sent to jail. She has started over with a new life, her own business, and a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When her husband is finally released, Lindsey believes she has cut all ties. There is no way he can ever find her and her daughter again. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her, tracking her every move. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded. Even her daughter is shadowed. Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he is a different person and doesn’t want to do her any harm. But can he really change? Is the one who wants her dead even closer to home than she thought?

My thoughts:
Chevy Stevens took my breath away more than once with her upcoming book, Never Let You Go. Focused around a physically abusive and controlling relationship, Stevens places the reader directly in the center of the storm. Reading an abusive relationship was intense, and I felt my heart pounding during most of part one. I have never been in this situation, but Stevens opened my eyes to just how terrifying it is for the victim of abuse, and how it can feel impossible to get out of the relationship. In this book, Lindsey Nash knows she must take a bold risk to remove her and her daughter, Sophie, from the grip that her husband, Andrew, has over their lives.

Lindsey and Andrew meet at a young age and fell deeply in love. They married and settled into their new home together, enjoying the early days of their romance. As Lindsey learns more about Andrew, she decides to surprise him with a thoughtful Christmas present – she knows he is going to be so touched. As it turns out, the gift triggered painful parts of his past, which revealed a rage that she didn’t see coming. Lindsey feels terrible, but works to repair the damage. Over time, she notices that Andrew’s drinking is increasing, and he becomes more verbally abusive and controlling. She slowly dissolves her friendships and hopes for a career, her world centering around Andrew. Sophie is born and years later the situation has escalated – Lindsey has no freedom and Andrew’s drinking is out of control. She has to escape this to protect Sophie and take back her life, but how? The events that follow lead to Andrew’s arrest, and a chance for Lindsey to start over.

Fast forward eleven years: Lindsey has built a new life for herself and Sophie is now 17 years old. Lindsey makes her living cleaning houses, and has worked hard to develop her business. Sophie is a talented artist, though, like many teenagers, a little lost. Sophie longs for a relationship with her father, the missing piece in her life. Lindsey has been dating, and has two reliable men in her life – Marcus, a great friend who teaches self-defense at her support group, and Greg, her boyfriend. Lindey’s world is shaken when she discovers that Andrew has been released from prison, but she feels confident that he will not be able to find her and Sophie. When strange events begin to occur, Lindsey is convinced that Andrew is back and looking for revenge. Her home is invaded, both her dog and boyfriend are attacked – she knows this is Andrew’s work, but with no tangible evidence, the police can’t do much to protect her.

This story is told in multiple timelines and is narrated from both Sophie and Lindsey’s perspectives. I have read a ton of books lately that feature this narrative style, and this one really stands out. I loved hearing Sophie’s take on the situation, and Stevens wrote a teenager so well! This book isn’t extremely violent, but the emotional toll it takes, especially in part one, is so heavy. I was so horrified and disgusted by Andrew’s actions, but more than that I was terrified for Lindsey and sad for Sophie. This book was so close to being a 5 star read for me! I had to dock it a little due to two shortcomings: the first is the story behind Sophie’s boyfriend, Jared. He is a major player in the story, and there are some questions about him that are left unanswered. I am still thinking about this kid – I want to know more! The second reason is that I didn’t love the final thoughts regarding Andrew. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling the story! That said, this is one of the best psychological thrillers I have read in a while – it’s fast-paced, completely gripping, and had me at the edge of my seat.