2015 Toronto Book Awards finalists to appear at The Word On The Street

The Word On The Street Toronto is happy to host three of the five finalists for the 2015 Toronto Book Awards at this year’s festival on Sunday, September 27th, at Harbourfront Centre. Be among the first to hear the finalists read from their nominated books at the Toronto Book Awards Tent. Each attending author will read twice from their work throughout festival day, beginning at 11:00 AM.

The finalists are:

  • André Alexis for his apologue, Fifteen Dogs, published by Coach House Books
  • Margaret Atwood for her short fiction collection, Stone Mattress, published by McClelland and Stewart (author Lynn Crosbie will read on Margaret Atwood’s behalf)
  • Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer for her novel, All the Broken Things, published by Random House Canada
  • Bruce McDougall for his work of dramatic nonfiction, The Last Hockey Game, published by Goose Lane
  • Emily St. John Mandel for her novel, Station Eleven, published by Harper Avenue (editor Jennifer Lambert will read on Emily St. John Mandel’s behalf)

The Toronto Book Awards were established by Toronto City Council in 1974 to honour authors of books of literary or artistic merit that are evocative of Toronto. The winner will be announced on October 15, 2015, at the Toronto Reference Library’s Bram & Bluma Appel Salon. This annual awards program is produced by the City of Toronto and the Toronto Public Library.

The Toronto Book Awards Tent also features a program of readings from Diaspora Dialogues. Diaspora Dialogues supports the creation and presentation of new fiction, poetry, and drama that reflect the complexity of the city through the eyes of its culturally diverse writers. Four writers will discuss how they got their first book published. From creative conception to publication, the writers explore how being a writer of colour may have impacted that journey. Cherie Dimaline (Red Rooms, The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy), Jon Chan Simpson (Chinkstar), Sabrina Ramnanan (Nothing Like Love), and Jael Richardson (The Stone Thrower) will each give a short personal talk and reading, and then come together for a lively moderated discussion.

For more information about the Toronto Book Awards Tent at The Word On The Street, please visit http://www.toronto.ca/book_awards/

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Toronto Book Awards: The Hungry Ghosts

Selvadurai, Shyam (BL)Our series of Toronto Book Awards reviews concludes today. Kim MacMullen has reviewed each of the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 16, 2014.

Today Kim reviews The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai (Doubleday Canada). Shyam will be reading at the The Word On The Street on September 21st, at 12:00 PM and again at 4:30 PM at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.


Set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, Shyam Selvadurai’s The Hungry Ghosts tells the story of Shivan Rassiah, the son of a Tamil father and Sinhalese mother, and his family’s struggles with the war and each other. After his father’s death, Shivan and his family have no choice but to move in with his wealthy, shrewd, and unforgiving grandmother, who had disowned Shivan’s mother years ago for various perceived betrayals. Shivan quickly becomes his Aachi’s favoured grandchild, and he grows up under her strict moral tutelage, knowing that his devotion is the only thing keeping his mother and sister under Aachi’s roof—a heavy burden for a six-year-old boy. As Shivan grows into an astute, emotional young man and begins to recognize his homosexuality, he realizes that his family must leave Sri Lanka if he is to live an open life and if they are to escape the violence in their country and Aachi’s domineering grasp, especially now that Shivan is being groomed to inherit and operate her many rental properties. He convinces his mother and sister to leave Sri Lanka for Canada, where they purchase a house (albeit, with Aachi’s money) and begin their new life in Scarborough, alight with hope and excitement at the prospect of total freedom.

Their new life proves to be a difficult one, though, filled with racism, loneliness, isolation, betrayals, and regrets, leaving all Book Cover_The Hungry Ghoststhree of them feeling stuck between a country to which they can’t return and another that feels as though it will never be home. Shivan faces racism when trying to navigate Toronto’s gay community, along with heartbreaking loneliness when he fails to make friends at university, and eventually he returns to Sri Lanka to visit his Aachi after she falls ill. This trip triggers a horrifying series of events that wounds Shivan to his core, destroying his relationship with his grandmother and creating even more discord in his family. The family’s love is palpable and referenced often through the story, but their incendiary reactions and overwhelming desire to punish others for their perceived slights, including Aachi’s deplorable actions upon learning of Shivan’s homosexuality, impede any real intimacy and drives them apart. Selvadurai’s beautiful, textured writing navigates the difficult and often violent subject matter of the book deftly and honestly, and by the end the reader cares for Shivan and his family (even Aachi) while simultaneously despairing at some of their poorer choices and more rash outbursts.

One by one, beginning with Shivan’s mother, they eventually begin to put aside their anger and open the door to forgiveness, offering a redemptive ending wrapped in simultaneous heartbreak. Aachi is the final holdout, and we are left guessing as to whether she can accept Shivan’s personal sacrifice and release her peréthayas, the titular hungry ghosts that can only be freed by the kind deeds of their ancestors, before her next life begins—hopefully with no insatiable spectres to haunt her new days.

Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.


CONTEST BANNERWhat was the title of Shyam Selvadurai’s first novel?  Check out our festival program, and send the answer to toronto@thewordonthestreet.ca to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books,signed by the authors!

Contest closes September 19, 2014.

Toronto Book Awards: The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement

Book Cover_The StopOur series of Toronto Book Awards reviews continues. Kim MacMullen is reading and reviewing each of the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 16, 2014.

Today Kim reviews The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis (Random House Canada). Nick and Andrea will be reading at the The Word On The Street on September 21st, at 12:30 PM and again at 5:00 PM at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.


Co-written by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis, The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement recounts Saul’s 14-year mission to transform The Stop, a long-standing food bank in Davenport West, into a community food centre. Detailing the successes, set-backs, and philosophical shifts of the centre itself, The Stop also outlines the need for an overhaul of how we think about hunger, poverty, and assistance, and a shift away from the now-entrenched food bank system. While genuine in their intentions, food banks were always meant to be a temporary solution to the hunger crisis. Saul and his team at The Stop knew there was a better way.

Saul, Nick and Andrea Curtis_2012_cr Karri North (less)Beginning his career as a community organizer, Saul was hired as the Executive Director of Stop 103, known in the community as The Stop, in 1998. Then primarily a food bank that also ran a health and nutrition program for low-income pregnant women, The Stop had a difficult time keeping up with the demand of their neighbourhood, and faced the same problems as many other food banks—under-staffing, under-funding, difficulties procuring donations, and low-quality food. Saul saw an opportunity to focus less on handouts and more on community building, education, and outreach, creating an inviting space for neighbours to share their knowledge and good, delicious, healthy meals. Over the next 14 years, The Stop would undergo dramatic changes, including the addition of a community garden, the creation of cooking programs, children’s programs, a second location, food enterprise programs and catering services for fund-raising, drop-in meals, and advocacy programs that assist community members with issues ranging from finding affordable housing to seeking language education programs, jobs, crisis assistance, and more. Many members of The Stop also went on to become volunteers and even paid employees of the centre, sharing the assistance and sense of community from which they themselves had benefitted.

The United Nations recognizes access to food as a human right—Saul wants it to be so much more. Cooking and eating are communal activities, and bringing a community together to share in the preparation and enjoyment of their food cultivates pride, celebration, and accomplishment, something that everyone can agree is more human and sustaining than dented tins of pork and beans. The Stop is written in a show-not-tell style, taking the reader by the hand and leading them through the long and continuing evolution of The Stop’s philosophies, programs, and practices. Aspirational but not preachy, informative but not pedantic, Saul and Curtis clearly lay out the beginnings, progress, and future plans for the movement, seemingly hoping to lead by example rather than by guilt in the fight to end hunger. It is also written with obvious gratitude to the volunteers, staff, and community members who made and continue to make The Stop and other community food centres possible and tells their stories alongside Saul’s own, making The Stop, just like its namesake, a community project far more than an individual effort.

Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.


CONTEST BANNERNick Saul is currently president and CEO of which organization? Check out our festival program, and send the answer to toronto@thewordonthestreet.ca to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books, signed by the authors!

Keep an eye out for the last Toronto Book Awards review this week, and another chance to enter!

Contest closes September 19, 2014.

Toronto Book Awards: The Wondrous Woo

Carianne K.Y. Leung_The Wondrous Woo

Carianne K. Y. Leung

Our series of Toronto Book Awards reviews continues. Kim MacMullen will be reading and reviewing each of the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 16, 2014.

Today Kim reviews The Wondrous Woo by Carrianne K. Y. Leung (Inanna Publications). Carianne will be reading at the The Word On The Street on September 21st, at 1:00 PM and again at 5:30 PM at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.


The Wondrous Woo tells the story of Miramar Woo, whose father moves their family to Scarborough from Hong Kong in the 1980s. While his “gung-ho” enthusiasm for Canada is not entirely matched by his wife and three kids, the Woo family generally enjoy their new suburban life, albeit with some struggles that are hidden from the children. Quiet and reserved outside of her home, Miramar especially enjoys her Saturday morning Kung Fu movie marathons with her father, cheering on the heroes and heroines who star in stories of bravery and justice. When Miramar’s father dies unexpectedly, the family is thrown into turmoil; Miramar must step into the lead role of the family, caring for her mother, brother, and sister in the aftermath of the tragedy. Shortly after their father’s death, Miramar’s siblings each develop incredible aptitudes that the family refers to as The Gifts. Their mother is quickly consumed by caring for and traveling with her two prodigies, which keeps her depression and panic attack-triggered hallucinations at bay. The children believe that The Gifts came from their late father as a means to cope with and distract themselves from their grief, leaving Miramar behind, literally and figuratively, to wonder why her father didn’t grant her a special talent.

Book Cover_The Wondrous WooOver the course of the next year, Miramar must deal with her grief largely on her own. After a tumultuous period filled with love and soul-crushing heartbreak (both with the same flannel-clad boy from North Bay) along with new interests and failed classes, she returns home. Her mother eventually succumbs again to her hallucinations, leaving Miramar to once more lead the family through the tough times—after she strikes out on her own in Toronto for a while, first. While living in the city, Miramar meets a boy named Mouse who shows her that, after a lifetime of keeping her true self inside, being yourself leads to the best, most honest, and most rewarding relationships, a message that Leung is able to convey with the same mix of dry humour and sincerity that exists in the rest of the book while successfully avoiding taking on the tone of a treacle-sweet after-school special.

Despite (or perhaps partly because of) its heavy subject matter, The Wondrous Woo is a genuinely funny book. Leung’s writing is sharp and moves quickly, keeping up with Miramar’s lightning-quick internal monologue of witty, biting, often self-deprecating observations. The book is a fantastic mix of heartfelt and hilarious in a way that feels deeply satisfying, and Miramar’s development arc feels measured and realistic. She doesn’t instantly morph into one of the no-nonsense, butt-kicking heroines from her favourite Kung Fu movies in one theatrical burst; through her grief, struggles, joys and small triumphs, she undergoes a slow-burning transformation over the course of the book’s four years that finally culminates in a dramatic climax that shows her the value of being herself on purpose. Which, whether it comes with the aid of magical Gifts or not, is what growing up is all about.

Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.


CONTEST BANNERCarrianne K. Y. Leung holds a Ph.D in which field of study? Check out our festival program, and send the answer to toronto@thewordonthestreet.ca to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books, signed by the authors!

Keep an eye out for the rest of the Toronto Book Awards reviews next week, and more chances to enter!

Contest closes September 19, 2014.

Toronto Book Awards: The Massey Murder

Book Cover_Massey MurderOur series of Toronto Book Awards reviews continues. Kim MacMullen will be reading and reviewing each of the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 16, 2014.

Today Kim reviews The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray (HarperCollins Canada). A representative for Charlotte Gray will be reading at the The Word On The Street on September 21st, at 1:30 PM and again at 2:00 PM at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.


On February 8, 1915, Charles Albert “Bert” Massey was shot to death by his 18-year-old housemaid, Carrie Davies, on the doorstep of his Walmer Street home. Confessing immediately upon her arrest and stating that Mr. Massey had attempted to assault and ruin her, Carrie leaves no question as to her participation in the murder of her employer—all that remains is to determine her fate. In The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master, and the Trial that Shocked a Country, Charlotte Gray tells the compelling story of the murder and trial while also painting a vivid picture of Toronto of 1915 and its wide array of citizens and social spheres.

Structured chronologically beginning with Massey’s death, each chapter of The Massey Murder outlines a day or more in the time between the shooting and the verdict, culminating in several chapters that address the fallout of the trial and beyond. The bulk of the book details the particulars of the case that unfolded throughout February of 1915 while fleshing out social and historical context related to those particulars. The impressive range of topics includes the rise of the Massey family, the cause of Bert’s expulsion from Hart Massey’s favour, the newspaper war between the Toronto Daily Star and the Evening Telegram, the Toronto Local Council of Women, the Women’s Court of Toronto, and the working conditions of domestic servants, all of which adds to the reader’s understanding of the complex and tumultuous time period and offers rich and invaluable context for the lead-up to Bert Massey’s death and Carrie Davies’ trial.

masseyimageGray also sets the murder firmly against the backdrop of World War I, which had broken out in the summer of the previous year. The conflict was six months old by the time Bert Massey died on his front step, and the now-infamous “home by Christmas” deadline had been surpassed by over a month. Soldiers had dug in on both fronts, stories of the brutal nature of the fighting and horrific conditions had made their way home, and Canadian troops were about to see action. When news of Massey’s murder broke, it provided a welcome, if slightly morbid, distraction from the months of grisly and overwhelming news from overseas, and captured the attention of Toronto and the country at large.

With some minor speculation and projections regarding things like Carrie Davies’ emotional state after being arrested, Gray ties the facts of the murder and subsequent trial together with strong narrative flair and excellent pacing. Far from being a simple retelling of the facts of a long-ago murder case, The Massey Murder is a thoroughly enjoyable and accessibly written look into the key players and institutions surrounding the death of Bert Massey, along with the effects of the trial and shocking verdict on Toronto itself.

Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.


CONTEST BANNERIn 2013 Charlotte Gray was a panelist on which CBC Radio show? Check out our festival program, and send the answer to toronto@thewordonthestreet.ca to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books, signed by the authors!

Keep an eye out for the rest of the Toronto Book Awards reviews, and more chances to enter!

Contest closes September 19, 2014.

Toronto Book Awards: Kicking the Sky

TBA imageWe’re happy to welcome our 2014 Toronto Book Awards blogger, Kim MacMullen! Kim will be reading and reviewing the finalists for this year’s Toronto Book Awards, which will be awarded on October 16, 2014.

First up is Kicking the Sky a novel by Anthony De Sa (Doubleday Canada). Anthony De Sa will be reading at the The Word On the Street on September 21st, at 11:30 AM and again at 4:30 PM at the Toronto Book Awards Tent.


Taking place against the backdrop of the real-life 1977 rape, torture, and murder of 12-year-old Emanuel Jaques, Kicking the Sky tells the story of Antonio Rebelo, a 12-year-old Portuguese boy,  and the toll that the shocking murder took on “Toronto the Good.” While Emanuel’s brutal death serves as a running backdrop and the catalyst for the major events of the book, the story is focused on Antonio’s relationships with his friends, family, and community as he navigates the tricky waters of adolescent sexuality and the everyday difficulties of being a pre-teen boy, albeit in the midst of extraordinary and tragic circumstances.

Book Cover_Kicking the skyWe meet Antonio and his two best friends, Manny and Ricky, as the boys are organizing a trip to Yonge Street to find the missing Emanuel (without their parents’ knowledge, of course), unaware that the boy is already dead and that his body is about to be discovered above a downtown body rub parlour. News of the murder transforms Little Portugal from a trusting neighbourhood with unlocked doors and bikes flung onto front lawns into a frightened, suspicious community who won’t let their children go to the bathroom alone at school. Protests are organized, doors are locked, and demands of justice and change are made. The Yonge Street strip is targeted, as is the gay community, leading to rampant homophobia, beatings, and the exodus of gay residents from their neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, constant abuses are tacitly committed against the community’s children, often at their own hands, with little or no fanfare or outrage. Ricky and Manny’s side jobs are the stuff of parents’ nightmares, a 15-year-old girl is impregnated by her step-father and thrown out of the house for her sins, and Antonio is exploited by his father when he sees the face of Christ in a limpet shell. And then there’s James, the 21-year-old newcomer to whom Manny, Ricky, and Antonio turn for companionship and what they call protection, whose questionable friendship proves anything but protective. Over the course of the story, the boys sink deeper into the kind of behaviour and circumstances the community dreads, culminating in an unforgettable ending with at least some resolution and growth from the neighbourhood’s adults.

Simultaneously funny, horrifying, heartwarming, and heartbreaking, Kicking the Sky is a compulsively readable coming-of-age story about both Antonio and Toronto itself that captures the confusion and complexity of navigating adolescence, along with the seismic shift that a community can experience in the wake of an unthinkable tragedy. Growing up isn’t easy—even less so in circumstances as difficult as those faced by Antonio, Ricky, and Manny—but we get through it, if we’re lucky, folding our experiences into our developing identities. Antonio and the city do make it through the events and fallout of that summer, but, for better or worse, neither can fully recognize themselves on the other side.

Kim MacMullen is a copywriter from Barrie, ON. She has a degree in English Literature from Laurentian University, and, after spending two years in Toronto, she now lives in Barrie with her husband and their substantial collections of books, sports memorabilia, and video games.


CONTEST BANNERAnthony Da Sa’s first book Barnacle Love a was a Toronto Book Awards finalist in which year? Check out our festival program, and send the answer to toronto@thewordonthestreet.ca to be entered in a draw to win a prize pack of all the shortlisted Toronto Book Awards books, signed by the authors!

Keep an eye out for the rest of the Toronto Book Awards reviews, and more chances to enter!

Contest closes September 19, 2014.