Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Moments ago, the CBC announced the nominees for this year's Canada Reads contest, and one of those books is Fruit, by Brian Francis! (I'm time traveling right now, by the way... I'm writing this in the past to you readers in the future, and setting the post to reveal itself after the CBC has unveiled the books.)

I was the acquisitions and developing editor on this book, and it's still one of my favourite books of all time. Brian was a dream to work on, and despite having to read the book 7 or 8 times, I laughed out loud every time I did. I adore this book, and I'm thrilled that this has happened for Brian.

How Canada Reads works is this: five people are chosen, and they nominate one book each. The books are unveiled to the general public on November 25 (today) and then Canadians have a little over three months to read the books. Then, the week of March 6, the five people who are championing the books will defend their books in daily debates, with one book being eliminated every day until a winner is chosen.

You can go to the Canada Reads blog daily and see podcasts, blogs, and hear audio of the authors reading from their books, and there's a chance to vote for your favourite. But the main thing is getting Canada to read these books. These are five fantastic books that have been chosen, but if you want to read a book that will not let you down, Fruit is it.

The book is about Peter Paddington, a 13-year-old overweight boy who is being let down by his body, and one day he swears his nipples, which have popped out like overripe cherries, are talking to him. They become his sense of doubt, whispering that the other kids will find out his secret, that he's hiding this "fruit" beneath his clothes that they're going to discover. Meanwhile, he tries to be a good kid, hanging out with his hilarious friend Daniela, who swears like a trucker, and doing his paper route while having naughty fantasies about one of his customers coming to the door wearing nothing but a red Speedo.

The inner life of Peter Paddington is at once hilarious, sad, and sweet, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, the nostalgia will take you back to those times (Peter sits behind a girl who carves Adrian Zmed's name all over her binder). If you ever thought your body was less-than-perfect or other kids were making fun of you, you will be right there with Peter as he worries about what the others are thinking of him. If you've ever thought your family was destined for the loony bin, you'll sympathize with Peter dealing with his two older sisters, his worrying, nervous mother, his mostly absent father and his friendly Uncle Bernard.

So come on, Canada, it's time to read!! And what better way to start than with the best book of the bunch. (No bias here.) You can get the book here. Enjoy!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Custodian of Paradise by Wayne Johnston

Not recommended... by Anne-Marie

Having read Colony of Unrequited Dreams a few years ago, I finally picked up this latest book with expectations of being transported to a part of Canada I still have not yet visited (but do have it on my list of place to go before I die). When I read Johnston’s previous book, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and felt better for having had the experience.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can say the same for Custodian. While still a good read, it’s certainly not going to be one that will be hanging out on my shelf for many years to come.

The book focused on the story of Sheilagh Fielding, a girl who always seems to be marching to her own drummer regardless of how it hurts the people around her. At the beginning of the book, Sheilagh is living with her father, the town doctor, who has been a shell of his former self since his wife ran off to New York when Sheilagh was only six. Day after day, year after year, he never misses an opportunity to tell his daughter he’s not even sure if he is indeed her biological father (a cruel joke the rest of the town seems to be in on), and he never seems to support or try to understand Sheilagh.

Not that she makes it easy. She has a big mouth, apparently matched only by her big stature – six foot three inches for most of her life. She’s cruel. She’s cold. She’s spiteful. And she never misses an opportunity to speak her mind.

She gets thrown out of school and takes up drinking.

Then she commits the worst sin of all. She becomes a journalist (and gets paid to speak her mind).

Throughout the entire book, Sheilagh never endears herself to one character that passes through her life. Having had to live as some kind of specimen on display whether because of the abandonment by her mother, the crooked leg she acquires following an illness, or her never –ending quest to tell things as she sees them regardless of who she might hurt in the process, Sheilagh never undergoes a miraculous transformation.

And as always with Johnston, his favourite character makes an appearance. While not much more than a character on the outer edges of the story, Joey Smallwood passes through Sheilagh’s life briefly to serve as her one connection to her life and points Sheilagh in the opposite direction to Smallwood just so she can continue to suffer and be miserable.

Her one true regret seems to be a teenage pregnancy, which is kept very quiet and handled very properly by Sheilagh’s mother and father – who are more interested in status than in the feelings of their daughter. While in some ways Sheilagh becomes colder in the face of a cold world, her occasional reflections on her pregnancy and what could have been show there might be a shred of decency in her somewhere.

Unfortunately, this becomes nothing more than a tantalizing morsel that could have perhaps become something. When I reached the end of the book, I felt empty.

But perhaps that was the point. To feel as empty and alone as the character herself. Because I can tell you that when I finished this book, I certainly didn’t feel better for the experience.