cover artCaroline Pignat brings to life a historical tragedy and fictional love in Unspeakable. Similar to the story in the film Titanic, but undeniably original, this novel captures the fear, pain, and survivor’s guilt from the shipwreck of The Empress of Ireland.

“No, the waters didn’t take me that night, but I was drowning, still, in survivor’s guilt” (pg 176)

The friendships and romances are memorable.┬áLearning about Jim’s perspective gradually as Ellie reads his journal is heartbreaking as we see the lost opportunities that so many people suffered.

The class divide on the ships makes you think about society and priorities. In shipwrecks, and in life, it is more dangerous to be in the lower class. Having a protagonist who grew up wealthy but is disowned and needs to work as a stewardess (in a time that was like serfdom) allows readers a view of the larger picture. She sees the contrast all the more starkly, making the transition.

“We write our lives by the choices we make. Like it or not, that becomes our story”

Ellie is a strong character who keeps her integrity through hardships. She experiences more hardships than many could bare but keeps her wits about her, stays true to herself, and fights for what is important to her. She is ostracized for her teen pregnancy, hounded by reporters for being one of the few survivors of disaster, and judged for following her heart. She makes mistakes, but the way she deals with them make her a good role model for readers.

A fantastic read for fans of adventure, survival stories and romance.

The Gospel Truth

The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat is not about religion, so don’t let that influence your decision about reading it. If you like historical fiction, human rights stories or character based fiction this will catch your attention.

I have a weakness for novels in verse. There’s something about the way it flows that draws me in. I read this in less than two hours, but an easy read doesn’t mean a frivolous one. Heavy subject matter is explored in the text.

Pignat followed the popular trend this year of using multiple narrators so we have a varied perspective of the plantation. Sometimes when books do this it is confusing or unpleasant but Pignat has created such distinct voices that it works beautifully in this case. The book also has an imprint on the top indicating which character is speaking in any given chapter so if you don’t read it in one sitting like I did, you can come back to it and know who’s head you’re in.

Stories of slavery are always sad, but Pignat infuses her novel with hope and bravery. Yes reading about a time when humans treated one another so poorly can make us cringe at the faults of humanity, but the spirited Phoebe and Shad remind us there is good too. Doctor Bergman, the Canadian character, takes risks to help others.

This is a book that could be read in schools to celebrate Black History Month or to discuss human rights. If you are looking for an engaging way to introduce teens to the underground railroad, this is a book that will capture the attention of both literary enthusiasts and reluctant readers.

The Comic Book War

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The Comic Book War is a Canadian novel set during World War 2. It explores some of the hardships faced in Canada at that time. The stresses of having family members in the war, supply shortages, and the pressure to dedicate all of your energy and funds to the war effort all featured heavily.

I have to say I find the premise of this to be too juvenile for teens. A delusional boy who feels that reading comics keeps his brothers safe on the battlefield because of a piece of meteor he wears around his neck is just not sophisticated enough for contemporary teens. I think maybe 10-12 year-olds would enjoy it if they are from old fashioned families and are interested in both history and comics. That’s a very specific niche.

Maybe it’s because it’s not a time period I know extensively but I found the dialogue really unrealistic. Did people ever really use the corny expressions that are only used sarcastically in the modern world? I think the “golly gee” factor will alienate most teen readers.

The plot was predictable. I guessed the fate of key characters, and a few “big reveal” moments fell flat because I was anticipating them.

That being said, it was an easy read that could potentially fill the void of things to read aloud to an ailing grandparent, or listen to as a family on a car trip. It’s juvenile but might appeal to the elderly who want to share part of their lives with another generation. While I can’t see many teens I know reading this independently it could serve as a family bonding exercise.

Dance of the Banished

Danced of the Banished is a fictional story based on true circumstances. It’s a sad story of violence, discrimination and exploitation in 1914, but it’s also about a long distance romance.

The most enjoyable and enlightening part for me is when Zeynep encounters the missionaries and is baffled by how the “civilized” people trying to force their culture on others is not as wise and functional as the “savages” .

This is something that could enrich a history of social studies class. However, I can’t see any average Canadian teens reading it for pleasure. The pace is slow, the dialogue is choppy and the narrators don’t have youthful “voices” that I feel will appeal to teens.

I think I’d market this to an older audience- not because of mature content but because of the pace, tone, and diction.

Saving Houdini

Micover artchael Redhill’s novel Saving Houdini is a fun, old-fashioned time travel tale. There’s a nostalgic tone throughout the book. Instead of missing the technology and luxuries of his time Dash soaks in the wonders of the past. There’s a nice steady pace, with details about flavours and smells that enhance the train-jumping action.

This book was submitted to me as one targeted to teens, but I would argue it is best suited for pre-adolescents. 10-12 year-olds will enjoy it the most. That’s the age where kids (especially boys) develop an interest in magic tricks and dream of running away for an adventure, but know deep down they’d miss their family. The novel is perfectly suited for them, with a glimpse of a famous magician behind the scenes, and adventurous kids their age getting into a little trouble. There’ s nothing in this that would be inappropriate for a younger audience, and I think they would enjoy it more than most teens. However, if a young teen was looking for a clean read with time travel, magic tricks or friendship I would recommend it to them.

Where I Belong

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Tara White’s novel Where I Belong is a paranormal twist on historical fiction. Dreams guide an adopted teen to her birth family. She connects with her Mohawk roots around the time of the Oka uprising. This is a quick read that deals with the struggle of identity as many teen books do. It has both excitement and sweet family moments. The psychic dreams are full of First Nations imagery and symbols.

Buried Truths

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This was an interesting read. I like that it explored multiple areas in Canada. The secondary characters sometimes felt a tad flat but I enjoyed the journey of the main character.

The most memorable thing for me was the Shakespeare themed restaurant the characters frequent. This is described really well, and it’s the type of place I would hang out.

I think the tactile experience of the archaeology parts could have been described better, and her love of art could have been explored more. Overall it was an enjoyable read, that I’d recommend to someone looking for a book that deals with a teen figuring out her identity, or moving to a new place.