by Katherena Vermette
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Pub Date 28 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 13 Apr 2022
Penguin Random House Canada, Hamish Hamilton
WINNER OF THE ATWOOD GIBSON WRITERS' TRUST PRIZE FOR FICTION
SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2022 MANITOBA BOOK AWARDS’ CAROL SHIELDS WINNIPEG BOOK AWARD, MARGARET LAURENCE AWARD FOR FICTION, AND MCNALLY ROBINSON BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2021 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
A GLOBE & MAIL BEST BOOK
From the bestselling author of The Break comes a staggering intergenerational saga that explores how connected we are, even when we’re no longer together—even when we’re forced apart.
Cedar has nearly forgotten what her family looks like. Phoenix has nearly forgotten what freedom feels like. And Elsie has nearly given up hope. Nearly.
After time spent in foster homes, Cedar goes to live with her estranged father. Although she grapples with the pain of being separated from her mother, Elsie, and sister, Phoenix, she’s hoping for a new chapter in her life, only to find herself once again in a strange house surrounded by strangers. From a youth detention centre, Phoenix gives birth to a baby she’ll never get to raise and tries to forgive herself for all the harm she’s caused (while wondering if she even should). Elsie, struggling with addiction and determined to turn her life around, is buoyed by the idea of being reunited with her daughters and strives to be someone they can depend on, unlike her own distant mother. These are the Strangers, each haunted in her own way. Between flickering moments of warmth and support, the women diverge and reconnect, fighting to survive in a fractured system that pretends to offer success but expects them to fail. Facing the distinct blade of racism from those they trusted most, they urge one another to move through the darkness, all the while wondering if they’ll ever emerge safely on the other side.
A breathtaking companion to her bestselling debut The Break, Vermette’s The Strangers brings readers into the dynamic world of the Stranger family, the strength of their bond, the shared pain in their past, and the light that beckons from the horizon. This is a searing exploration of race, class, inherited trauma, and matrilineal bonds that—despite everything—refuse to be broken.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 32 members
The Strangers tells the story of four generations of a Métis family (the “Strangers” of the title), as told in rotating POVs by four women of the family (a grandmother, her daughter, and two teenaged sisters from the third generation). It wasn’t until after I finished this that I realised that one of these teenagers was a central character in Katherena Vermette’s last novel (The Break) — and while it isn’t necessary to have read one before the other, I had some questions cleared up once I made that connection. Once again, Vermette has created a roster of incredibly real characters whose stories touched my heart (I was in tears, more than once, over moments of simple human connection), and once again, she has taught me what it is like to live as a member of the urban Métis community of Winnipeg — the pressures, stresses, and prejudices unique to this particular racialised group — without me, as a citizen of the dominant, settler culture of Canada, feeling blamed or vilified. The Strangers touched me emotionally, taught me intellectually, and was a satisfying literary journey; this is everything I love in a book.
This book is spectacular! If you loved The Break you will not want to miss Vermette's second novel! The Strangers is the story of a Métis family set in the North End of Winnipeg, told in alternating narratives by three generations of Stranger women. It is a raw, heart rending story, both rich and at times brutally honest, revealing its intricacies slowly and with deep honour for the fractured, seemingly broken characters.
Elsie and her two daughters are fighting to survive in a system that sets them up to fail. This is not a happy story. It is a sprawling story of derailed dreams, drug addiction, children in care, prison, entrenched systemic racism, and all the ways we let each other down. And yet it isn't devoid of hope, of love, of small beautiful moments of deep connectedness amongst all the pain.
Vermette's characters are so well drawn you will at times forget the story is fiction. A truly fantastic author! By far one of the best books I have read this year.
I finished one of my most anticipated books of the year last night and it did not disappoint.
Told from alternating POVs of two sisters, their mother and their grandmother of a Métis family with the last name of Stranger. Phoenix is serving a sentence in a juvenile institution and her sister begins the book in one of the foster care homes she has been in. Elsie is battling her demons and trying to fight an addiction in the middle of a town where she frequents the same people, places and things. - a recipe for an uphill battle. Margaret is estranged from her daughter and learns of a new birth in the family from her mother. All of these characters will have to have to move boulders from their way to push past what they have endured and come out whole.
The Strangers is a companion book to The Break (published in 2016). I read The Break in February of 2017 and while bits of it have stayed with me, including the experience of reading it, details have been forgotten. It is not necessary to have read The Break first but I think it adds to layers within The Strangers. I wish I had reread The Break more recently.
I am very thankful for the family tree at the beginning of the book to help me keep the multitude of characters straight. There are a couple of names that belong to two characters and thus really helped.
Themes of both connection and estrangement, intergenerational experience, trauma, loss and tradition flow through the story. The story is told over five years and includes the current pandemic within them subtly.
The characters are often set up to fail by systems. One example was the comments made by the character Elsie in the novel who talks about the requirement of a home for the system to give her her children but to get a home you need the children who are going to live there first. An impossible situation.
Motherhood and its many joys and frustrations was tackled expertly. The character of Margaret had some especially difficult views for me. It is not until later in the novel where we are told by her uncle Toby where Margaret comes from and how she is different than she appears. I cried during several scenes in this book and most of them involved children.
Thank you to @netgalley and @penguinhamishhamilton for this ARC in exchange for my honest opinions. The Strangers publishes September 28, 2021.
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