Toronto Book Awards – Reviewing Fauna

The 2011 Toronto Book Awards is being covered by our guest blogger Christine Sweeton. To read more about her, click here.


We have all seen the early morning bikers and runners as we make our commute. We have all seen the panhandlers on the sidewalk with their dogs. We have all seen the raccoons scrambling out of the dumpsters and the squirrels running along hydro lines. But rarely are they as beautifully illuminated as in Alissa York’s novel, Fauna. I adored this book! York brings the Toronto backdrop to life in this carefully crafted novel of interwoven characters, both animal and human.

Throughout the novel, Toronto is shown as an interesting dichotomy of both urban and natural. York’s descriptions shows the city in a beautiful but believable light. For instance, the main character, Edal Jones, takes an early morning bike ride through the city…

“At Langley, she changes her mind: she won’t go east, but west instead, through the city’s concrete heart. It’s been months, maybe even a year, since she threaded a path through those glittering towers – not an experience she generally seeks, but this morning the idea of deserted glass valleys appeals. From there she can cut down to the lakefront if the mood takes her, or carry on westward, maybe even as far as High Park.”

York’s talent lies in her ability to create characters that are the perfect combination of flaw and brilliance. You can’t help but connect to each one and mourn their brief disappearances when the story moves to another area; luckily the grief passes quickly as all the characters are crafted with the same attention to detail and each new area is just as wonderful as the last. I was so enthralled with their interconnected lives that I read this 375-page novel in just two days – I could not put it down.

Before you start to think that a novel that features the lives and thoughts of animals like raccoons, squirrels, foxes, and skunks is cutesy or Disney-esque, Fauna realistically tells their stories and the novel contains some graphic scenes. The main characters are human. The focus is on the development of relationships but beyond that it contains a complex concoction of themes related to urban life, and the delicate balance between humans and nature within our city. A great read!


All of the shortlisted novels will be featured in the Toronto Book Awards Tent at The Word On The Street! In Alissa York’s absence, Fauna will be presented by Toronto poet, Ricardo Sternberg at both 12:30pm and 4:00pm.

3 thoughts on “Toronto Book Awards – Reviewing Fauna

  1. Your post makes me so nostalgic for Toronto: Kensington Market when it was deserted in the early mornings, the financial district on Sundays when you could actually notice the architecture without being mowed down by the lawyers and stock brokers, Adelaide and Richmond Streets late at night, when all the lights were green and cycling along them made it seem closer to flying than anything else I’ve ever experienced….

    And of course you’re making me want to read this book too. 🙂

    • You have made me nostalgic for Toronto Ruth and I live here! I must start exploring my city more… perhaps after this year’s festival. Wish you could be here for the festival, I would love to read what you would write about it 🙂

      And if you read FAUNA, you must let our blogger and me know what you think! Her review made FAUNA go on the top of my to-read list! Yes, I am still reading The Word On The Street 2010’s featured books.

      Thanks for replying, always lovely to hear from you.

  2. I cannot recommend FAUNA enough! Such a great book. But it really will make you miss Toronto. I have lived here a year now and the novel made me want to explore the Don Valley so much!! I haven’t even really been east of Younge yet. This city is so big, so diverse, so wonderful!
    —Christine Sweeton (

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