The best hidden gems by Canadian writers

Danielle R. Graham Author Of All We Left Behind
By Danielle R. Graham

Who am I?

I’m a Canadian psychotherapist who worked as a social worker for nearly a decade before going into private practice for the next two decades. I dabble in history and literature and when I find a Canadian book that combines elements of social justice, historical wrongs, heart-wrenching human experience, feminism, and Canadian wilderness I want to share it with everyone. As a bonus, if one of the characters happens to be a young person who is coming of age, the book will earn a very top position on my bookshelf. I hope you enjoy this small list of what I consider hidden gems by Canadian authors.

I wrote...

All We Left Behind

By Danielle R. Graham,

Book cover of All We Left Behind

What is my book about?

As the war rages around the world, Hitler’s fury is yet to be felt on the peaceful shores of Mayne Island, Canada. Sweethearts Hayden and Chidori are in love. But everything changes after Pearl Harbor. Now seen as the enemy, Chidori and her family are forced into an internment camp for Japanese Canadians. Powerless to help them, Hayden joins the Royal Canadian Air Force to bring about an end to this devastating war. Will they both survive long enough to be reunited? Or will the war rip away all that they left behind?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed

Why did I love this book?

A true story of myth, madness, and greed, The Golden Spruce is one of those books that has hauntingly stuck with me since I read it. It’s the story of a forestry worker named Grant Hadwin who committed a bizarre act of environmental violence in Haida Gwaii and then mysteriously disappeared under suspicious circumstances. The book traces the life and career of Hadwin in an attempt to explain what possessed him to cut down a 300-year-old mystic golden Sitka Spruce known as Kiid K’iiyas, which has been a sacred part of the Haida People’s oral history for generations. John Vaillant’s description of the psychology of the man and the beauty of the wilderness in which Hadwin spent his life left such an impact on me that when I visited Haida Gwaii I hiked the trail to the now fallen sacred tree.

By John Vaillant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Golden Spruce as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a shattered kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Northwest, they reignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest. Five months earlier, logger-turned-activist Grant Hadwin had plunged naked into a river in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chainsaw. When his night's work was done, a unique Sitka spruce, 165 feet tall and covered with luminous golden needles, teetered on its stump. Two days later it fell.

As vividly as John Krakauer puts readers on Everest, John Vaillant takes us into the heart of North America's last great forest.

Medicine Walk

By Richard Wagamese,

Book cover of Medicine Walk

Why did I love this book?

The gentle pacing of this story is so powerful. As his dying wish, Eldon Starlight, a war vet who has a fractured relationship with his soft-spoken 16-year-old son, Franklin, sends for his boy to take him to the mountains so he can be buried sitting up and facing east, in the Ojibway warrior way. I felt as if I too was moving step by step through the complex emotions as the estranged father and son navigated their way through the Canadian wilderness on the journey to heal past traumas and their relationship. The fact that such subtle writing can be so profound is something I think all readers will appreciate in this Canadian gem.

By Richard Wagamese,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Medicine Walk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A novel about the role of stories in our lives, those we tell ourselves about ourselves and those we agree to live by.” —Globe and Mail

When Franklin Starlight is called to visit his father, he has mixed emotions. Raised by the old man he was entrusted to soon after his birth, Frank is haunted by the brief and troubling moments he has shared with his father, Eldon. When he finally travels by horseback to town, he finds Eldon on the edge of death, decimated from years of drinking.

The two undertake a difficult journey into the mountainous backcountry, in…

Book cover of North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both

Why did I love this book?

The full title of this memoir by Cea Sunrise Person is North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Counter Culture Family, and How I Survived Both, which basically sums up this fascinating and wild ride through Cea’s unconventional upbringing in a pot-smoking, free-loving, clothing-optional, canvas tipi-sleeping, non-conforming family in the Canadian wilderness. Gaining this unique view into the psychology and emotional fallout of the eccentric family lifestyle was shocking, heart-breaking, and inspirational all at once. You will never read another book quite like it.

By Cea Sunrise Person,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked North of Normal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sex, drugs, and . . . bug stew? In the vein of The Glass Castle and Wild, Cea Sunrise Person’s compelling memoir of a childhood spent with her dysfunctional counter-culture family in the Canadian wilderness—a searing story of physical, emotional, and psychological survival.

In the late 1960s, riding the crest of the counterculture movement, Cea’s family left a comfortable existence in California to live off the land in the Canadian wilderness. But unlike most commune dwellers of the time, the Persons weren’t trying to build a new society—they wanted to escape civilization altogether. Led by Cea’s grandfather Dick, they lived…

The Break

By Katherena Vermette,

Book cover of The Break

Why did I love this book?

Fair warning, you need to be in the right mood to take on this story. And it’s not quite a hidden gem since it has won numerous awards. It starts with a Metis woman who witnesses an assault on a barren ice-covered field on an isolated strip of utilities land outside her house in the Canadian Prairies. The story weaves through multiple narratives of people connected to the victim and exposes the reader to the lives and social issues that impact multiple generations of women in this indigenous family. Although difficult to read, it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. As with all social issues, if we ignore the reality of poverty and turn away from the harshness of the violence or pretend discrimination and injustice don’t exist, how will anything ever change?

By Katherena Vermette,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Break as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award 2018
Crime Book of the Month, Sunday Times, February 2018

'I loved this... very tough and very real.' - Margaret Atwood

When Stella, a young mother in an Indigenous community, looks out her window one wintry evening and spots someone being attacked on the Break - a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house - she calls the police. By the time help arrives, all that is left of the struggle is blood on the snow. As the search for the victim intensifies, people…

Book cover of They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School

Why did I love this book?

Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars spent much of her childhood in a Canadian Indian residential school called St. Joseph’s Mission and in a hospital to treat the tuberculosis she contracted while at the school. This is her first-person account of how the trauma of being taken from her family and community impacted not only her, but every member of her family for three generations. It also discusses her path to healing. The title refers to the fact that in an attempt to strip the children from all sense of their culture and identity, they were referred to by a number rather than their names. I studied the impact of the Canadian Indian Residential School system as part of my social work degree and read many books on the subject but this personal account resonated most profoundly for me.

By Bev Sellars,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked They Called Me Number One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Xat’sull Chief Bev Sellars spent her childhood in a church-run residential school whose aim it was to “civilize” Native children through Christian teachings, forced separation from family and culture, and discipline. In addition, beginning at the age of five, Sellars was isolated for two years at Coqualeetza Indian Turberculosis Hospital in Sardis, British Columbia, nearly six hours’ drive from home. The trauma of these experiences has reverberated throughout her life.

The first full-length memoir to be published out of St. Joseph’s Mission at Williams Lake, BC, Sellars tells of three generations of women who attended the school, interweaving the personal…

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