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The Break

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2016 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize finalist

When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.

A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.

350 pages, Paperback

First published September 17, 2016

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About the author

Katherena Vermette

32 books850 followers
Katherena Vermette is a Canadian writer, who won the Governor General's Award for English-language poetry in 2013 for her collection North End Love Songs. Vermette is of Metis descent and from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was a MFA student in creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

Her children's picture book series The Seven Teachings Stories was published by Portage and Main Press in 2015. In addition to her own publications, her work has also been published in the literary anthology Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water. She is a member of the Aboriginal Writers Collective of Manitoba, and edited the anthology xxx ndn: love and lust in ndn country in 2011.

Vermette has described her writing as motivated by an activist spirit, particularly on First Nations issues. The title of her book refers to Winnipeg's North End.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,938 reviews
Profile Image for Norma.
551 reviews11.8k followers
August 24, 2018
4.5 stars!

THE BREAK by KATHERENA VERMETTE is a dark, gritty, heartbreaking, and a powerful intergenerational family saga that was quite intense and depressing to read. The Break refers to a piece of land between two rows of houses which is outside the home of Stella a young Métis mother who witnessed a violent act on the Break. I think The Break also refers to a more general break in things such as relationships, ourselves, and our past.

This book opens up to a trigger warning to it’s readers but I felt that KATHERENA VERMETTE handled the violence very well and although some of the details was hard to read at times, was very sad and depressing it is an important piece of Canadian culture and I really appreciated the author giving a voice to these indigenous Manitoban women.

KATHERENA VERMETTE delivers a well-written read here that is told in multiple perspectives with separate chapters of each character within this family. There are a lot of characters to keep track of here but with the help of an illustration of the family tree I didn’t have too much trouble keeping track of all the characters involved. I thought the author gave a realistic voice to these women as we seen how they coped with the violence and how they healed each other through their love, strength, resilience and kindness.

This wasn’t a happy book and I wouldn’t say that I had a connection to any of these characters but I did have a connection to the story in a whole though and it did open up my eyes and showed me how it is to live in a neighborhood like the one described in this book. I appreciated that she put a voice to them. For that I have hope.

To sum it all up it was an emotional demanding, interesting, suspenseful, and an engaging read that will stay with me for a very long time. Would recommend!!

This was a Traveling Sisters group read that I had the pleasure of reading along with Lindsay, Susanne, Diane and Dem.

Thank you so much to Edelweiss, House of Anansi Press, and Katherena Vermette for the opportunity to read a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

All of our Traveling Sisters Reviews can be found on our sister blog:
September 22, 2021
5 huge bright red stars from me!

When I first saw The Break at the bookstore it caught my interest but I decided against it as it had a trigger warning for violence. I can be sensitive to violence however knowing in advance it does take some of the sensitivity away. I saw it again at the library and knew then that I was going to have to read it. It was definitely a good read for me. I felt that Katherena Vermette handled the violence well and is so well written that I didn't feel sensitive towards it at all.

The Break is an emotional, powerful and intense literary thriller about the strength and love that connects a family of women and friends together, while dealing with a violent act. The Break refers to a field between two rolls of houses but also refers to broken relationships.

The story is told in shifting perspectives of connecting characters as they share their past and present stories. This added suspense to the story as I pieced together how the characters were connected to the crime. There is a large cast of characters and at times I needed to use the helpful family tree that is included at the beginning of the book to sort them all out.

I really enjoyed the beauty and the love that connected these women amid the suffering and their struggles to survive. It will be a story that stays with me for a very long time.
Profile Image for Susanne.
1,155 reviews36.3k followers
November 17, 2017
3.25 Stars (rounded down)

A Heartbreaking novel about Manitoban women, families and friendship and what it means to have the support of those around you.

The Break is a place between two rows of houses. In the winter it is bleak and cold. A young woman named Stella lives on the Break with her husband and two young children. There she witnesses something horrible and extremely violent. No one believes her. Not the police or her husband.

Across town, a Metis family is torn apart. Something bad has happened. It is senseless, heinous and inconceivable.

All of the characters in this novel are bound together in one way or another, by family, friendship, secrets or silence - and their survival depends on the support they glean from those around them.

This is a novel with an extremely large cast of characters - sometimes it was hard to keep track of them all. Due to that, I, unfortunately wasn’t all that invested in the characters as much as I would have liked. Some side stories were, unfortunately, superfluous to the main storyline and felt unnecessary. Further, the main story was extremely depressing and sad, and at times, extremely brutal. That being said, the author handled certain parts of this book with care.

The author, Katherena Vermette, however, did a nice job exploring a story about familial dynamics and Manitoban women. This is not a subject I had read about previously and I appreciated the insight.

This was a Traveling Sisters group read. It included Norma, Lindsay, Diane and Dem.

Thank you to Edelweiss, Ingram Publisher Services and Katherena Vermette for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Published on Edelweiss, Goodreads, Twitter and Instagram on 11.17.17.

Will be published on Amazon on 3.6.18.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,177 reviews1,068 followers
November 14, 2017
An ok read for me but sadly not one for my favourites list

The Break is a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside the home of Stella a young Métis mother. One evening Stella looks out of her window and spots someone in trouble on the Break ― she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.

The story is told in series of shifting narratives, people who are connected both directly and indirectly with the victim, the police, family all tell their own stories leading up to that fateful night and this is where my difficulty began with the book. I found it very difficult to keep track of all the characters and just when I thought I was getting to know a character the narrative would shift and I would have to try and connect again. I also found the pace slow and tedious in places a lot of detail and yet little action. The writing was good but I seemed to loose interest in the story and ended up just being an ok read for me.

I read this as part of a group read and look forward to doing this soon again as its a great way to read a book and although I didn't love this one I am looking forward to more of Traveling Sisters Group reads.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,687 reviews14k followers
November 16, 2017
The first thing I noted when I started reading was how well it was written. The second, how large the cast of characters was, though a genealogical chart was provided. I still found it hard to keep track of who was related to whom, and how. Two young girls are attacked after attending a party without their parents knowledge. One more severely injured than the other. The assault is seen by one of the woman who calls the police. The metas are Canada's indigenous people, and are treated much like our native Americans are treated on the reservations in the United States. Not taken very seriously.

The things I liked about this novel were the realism of the situation, the strong women, and the family unity that is shown as they come together to support these young women. The large cast of characters, however, kept me from connecting to any of them in particular. There was much dialogue, conversations that seemed excessive, in fact much of the book seemed to be made up of conversations between various family members. Sharing their stories and family situations. Unfortunately I didn't find much in them that I found interesting. My favorite character was the grandmother, they called her the kakoom, and she was the matriarch of the family. I appreciated her quiet wisdom.

I liked it, but found it confusing at times. Wanted more of a connection to the story, the characters or both. This is a first novel and this author can definitely write. Hopefully I will find a better connection with her next book.

This was another sisters read and our varying viewpoints provided for an interesting and diverse discussion.

ARC from Edelweiss
November 16, 2017
2.5 stars

This is the story of four generations of Metis women and their families. It explores their love for one another and bond through life’s daily struggles, stresses and horrors. It is a heart-breaking and haunting novel that will stay with me for quite a while.

I found the entire storyline sad and depressing, which I’m sure most readers will agree with. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters as I found there were too many of them to keep track of. There is a family tree illustration provided, but even with that, I still struggled to keep the women and generations of families separate which really took away from my reading experience. I will warn readers that there is some brutal sexual violence, however, I found it was presented in a respectful and non-aggressive manner which I appreciated.

Reading this presented a glimpse into the life of what some Indigenous women and families live through, much of it being quite shocking and upsetting. One of my struggles with the novel was that I didn’t feel there was a purpose to this painful and somber story. Perhaps there wasn’t supposed to be one. I guess it comes down to the fact that I simply didn’t enjoy reading the majority of it. Some parts were very well written, but others dragged and I found my mind wandering. I felt there was a lot of extra, unnecessary detail and far too many characters.

A big thank you to Edelweiss, House of Anansi Press and Katherena Vermette for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

I read this as part of the Traveling Sister Group and we had extremely varying thoughts and perspectives on this eye-opening story. It brought forth some very deep and interesting discussion. While the book missed its mark for me, there were many of us who absolutely loved it. I strongly suggest checking out Norma and Brenda’s fabulous blog on the links below to review their separate glowing reviews of this intense novel.

Norma’s review:

Brenda’s review:
Profile Image for Lata.
3,441 reviews180 followers
December 19, 2016
This was a tough read, not because this author can't write. In fact, Katherena Vermette writes well, and I found myself turning the pages quickly in anticipation of finding out what the characters would do next. The subject matter is tough; the book opens with an assault and then deals with the aftermath amongst the women in the family. The author presents three generations of women in the family; their hard lives, how they struggle with their families, the men in their lives, and the perceptions of their neighbours and the police. There is also some discussion of the struggles of being between both cultures, in the person of a Metis police officer.

The women draw strength from their families, and from their connection to their culture, often talking about wanting to go back to the woods for the quiet, for a way to recharge and replenish their souls.

The author also shows the effects upon the women and their children of the effects of the denigration and abuse from the wider culture.

There are no happy endings or easy resolutions in this book. But what does come through strongly is the love and strength necessary for these women to get through their lives and hold their families together.
Profile Image for Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac).
650 reviews583 followers
February 9, 2017
One of my top reads of 2016. Vermette stuns and reveals with this gritty, heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful story of a circle of indigenous Manitoban women coping with and doing their damndest to heal and heal each other from the violent, racist realities of their lives. Deceptively simple writing that packs a wallop; intricately plotted, in a way that goes deeper than mere cleverness. I'd love it to become required reading for white folks everywhere, but especially white Canadians.
Profile Image for ❤️.
84 reviews114 followers
December 27, 2022
Yes, this is a totally heart-breaking, totally gut-wrenching novel. The subject matter is tough. But it was fucking beautiful. It didn't gawk at the tragic event that takes place in the book or at its survivors, it didn't make excuses or try to make saints or devils out of the various characters, it didn't make me feel like a victim or hopeless myself. It made me feel sad a lot of the time, sure, but it also made me feel warm, like only a really good, really honest book can. It was just real.

The women in this woven story are so wonderful. Vulnerable and wary, curious and funny, loving and strong. But not that cliched type of strong that's so prevalent and often forced in fiction today. They aren't ~strong female characters~ because they were put through the wringer and made battered and broken for the reader's sake and that's why you're supposed to love them. No, they're strong because that's how they were raised and because of the strong bonds they have with each other. I fell in love with the women of this book. In fact, I think this is the book that has made me feel the most while reading it.

The Break is a painful and beautiful read, all at the same time. One that has impacted my life greatly. It's one of those books that can't not have an impact on you.
Profile Image for Canadian Reader.
1,030 reviews
October 14, 2016
In Vermette's gritty debut novel, a nominee for Canada's 2016 Governor General's Award for fiction, a thirteen-year-old girl is brutally assaulted in a snowy vacant lot. It is late at night, and a young mother whose house abuts the land, views the scene, "freezes", and then calls the police. One of the officers, Tommy Scott, like both the victim and the witness to the crime, is Metis (a person of mixed aboriginal and European ancestry). He is determined to get to the bottom of what occurred. Crimes involving "Nates" (natives) are ho-hum, routine occurrences to Officer Christie, Scott's older, white, police partner. (A stereotypically overweight, slow-moving frequenter of Tim Horton's coffee shops, Christie is weary of the messiness of people's lives and policing in general). One senses there is no real will to investigate much of the crime that goes down in this part of town. Racism simmers here in north-end Winnipeg.

Vermette's story, however, is not so much about solving the violent crime as it is about the relationships between the four generations of women who face it and their efforts to hold each other up in the aftermath of the assault. Addiction, domestic and sexual abuse, marital dissolution, aboriginal gang life, and social services all figure in the back stories of the central characters, all of whom (with the exception of Tommy) are female. There are young men in the story, but father figures are noticeably absent. The men are always running off to the bush or into the arms of other women. On-again-off-again, man-woman relationships are the norm. The only centre that holds is the one provided by the women. In the end, the perpetrator is apprehended (the identity of the one who committed the crime is never in doubt for the reader), but Vermette seems to indicate, it is not the serving of justice but traditional aboriginal beliefs and rituals that will bring whatever healing is to be found.

Vermette's work is accomplished and a strong addition to Canadian literature. However, I felt the book would have benefited from a pruning. It is realistic but unrelentingly bleak, and at 350 pages, it just felt too long to me.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
861 reviews
September 5, 2017
Katherena Vermette has written a beautiful heartbreaking book. Surprisingly it is her first novel!

Although this is fictitious, I was drawn into the drama and it felt "raw and real." I felt scared and helpless with Stella, and could emphasize with sisters Paulina and Louisa and their mother, Cheryl. I admired the young Metis policeman and could feel his frustration with his older partner.

I enjoyed this book and could hardly turn the pages fast enough, yet it was so GOOD that I didn't want to come to the end.

At the front of the book there is a "TRIGGER WARNING: This book is about recovering and healing from violence. Contains scenes of sexual and physical violence, and depictions of vicarious trauma."

I agree with the following quote from Goodreads-
" A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette's abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature."

If you enjoyed "If The Creek Don't Rise", then you will probably appreciate THE BREAK.

5 *****
Profile Image for Lauren Davis.
Author 9 books229 followers
August 6, 2017
"Katherena Vermette’s poignant novel, set in Winnipeg’s North End, opens with a violent crime that becomes the backdrop for a story of great depth and compassion. This masterfully written narrative shifts among the intergenerational voices of the women of one extended Indigenous family. The Break is a powerful, persuasive novel about the strength and love that bind these women to each other and to the men in their lives. The traditions and wisdom of a community are honoured, as is the exquisite individual humanity of each character. Although this is a novel of social importance, it transcends politics, taking the reader on a journey to the heart of what it means for one person to care about another, survive trauma, and endure."

- 2016 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize Jury Lauren B. Davis, Trevor Ferguson, and Pasha Malla
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,027 followers
March 4, 2018
So glad to finally read a book my Canadian friends have been discussing since the start of 2016! A violent crime occurs in a small community that is an offshoot of the Métis Nation (in Manitoba, Canada.) It's told from alternating perspectives, allowing for multiple generations and connections to speak for themselves. I was struck by the importance of family, how secrets were kept from people to protect them in different ways, how trauma is passed down.

When Shawn Mooney first came on the Reading Envy Podcast in January 2017, he discussed this book. That episode is even named after a quote from the book.

Thanks to the publisher for approving my request in Edelweiss. It comes out in the USA on March 6, 2018, but can we please work toward a speedier USA pub date from such lauded Canadian titles?
May 26, 2022
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The Break is a harrowing yet lucidly written intergenerational family saga that examines the repercussions of a horrific act of violence.
The book opens with Stella, a young Métis mother, witnessing a violent attack on some land near her house. Although torn, Stella doesn’t rush to the victim’s rescue and calls the police instead. When they show up the senior officer is quick to dismiss her, as there is no ‘body’, just some blood, and believes that she merely saw some ‘gang violence’. Scott, the younger officer, who is of Métis heritage, is not so sure. We eventually learn that the victim’s identity and that she happens to be related to Stella. The girl, a self-identifying ‘good’ girl who is an all-around good egg, is hospitalized and both physically and psychologically traumatized. Her mother, aunt, grandmother and great-grandmother are all deeply affected by her attack. They question who would do it and how to best help her in her recovery. Some want answers, others believe that finding the people who did this to her will not solve matters. We are also given the perspective of Scott who is hellbent on ‘solving’ this case, to the point where he disregards the magnitude of what the girl has experienced (pushing her to talk even if she shows signs of distress etc.). We learn of his struggle over his identity, from his colleague’s microaggressions to his own partner’s unfunny remarks about indigenous people. Although we are given insight into his experiences I had a hard time sympathizing with him as his voice stood out (and not in a good way) from the rest. I would have much preferred if the narrative hadn’t included his perspective and had focused on the women making up the girl’s family. There was something gimmicky about his chapters and it seemed to me that the author couldn't’ choose between making him into a flawed yet ultimately empathetic guy or an unscrupulous ambitious dick. Another pov that felt unnecessary was Phoenix’s. She is an older teen who has severe mental health issues (from body dysmorphia and disordered eating to extreme anger and violent episodes). There were aspects of her character that struck me as gratuitous and sensationalistic. Also, having her pov didn’t really make her into a more nuanced character. While I understand that often abuse breeds abuse (so we have someone who was abused becoming an abuser) I am tired of how often this is ‘used’ in fiction as a way of not quite condoning but of making ‘sense’ of an abusive character’s actions. I also found it frustrating that her pov featured more in the story than the girl (i have forgotten her name, even though she is meant to be the figure tying all of these narratives together) who was attacked. She and her friend have a chapter now and again but I found them somewhat simplistic compared to the others. That the first time that they sneak out and 'lie' to their mothers ends in such a horrifying way also struck me as a wee bit much.

Still, this book certainly packs a punch or two. Katherena Vermette doesn’t soften the brutality of what the victim experiences nor are she quick to condemn characters like Stella. Throughout these perspectives, Vermette also explores the discrimination, violence, and abuse directed at indigenous women. Some of the characters are trapped in a stark cycle of violence, addiction, and or abuse and Vermette doesn’t shy away from portraying the harsh realities that many of them live in. The story also dabbles with magical realism as there are chapters from the perspective of a character who is no longer alive. Their identity isn’t quite a mystery but I appreciated that Vermette didn't feel the need to over-explain their presence in the overarching narrative.
I would definitely read more by this author and I would encourage readers who can tolerate graphic descriptions of violent/sexual assault(s) to give The Break a chance.
Profile Image for Elena.
676 reviews190 followers
August 17, 2021
"Sie hat es nicht vergessen. Sie weiß noch alles. Sie wird immer alles wissen, jedes Detail, jede Einzelheit, auch wenn sie nichts davon laut aussprechen will. Jedes Mal, wenn sie irgendetwas von all dem laut ausspricht, wird es größer, also behält sie es in ihrem Innern und spricht nur aus, was sie muss." - Katherena Vermette, "Was in jener Nacht geschah"

Winnipeg, North End: Als Stella in jener verschneiten Februarnacht aus dem Fenster schaut, scheint sie zu erstarren: Sie beobachtet die brutale Vergewaltigung und Misshandlung einer jungen Frau. Stella schafft es, die Polizei zu rufen - doch als diese vier Stunden später eintreffen, glauben sie ihr nicht. Die Polizei geht von einer Schlägerei unter Gang-Mitgliedern aus, eine Vergewaltigung sei bei diesem Wetter draußen doch gänzlich unwahrscheinlich. Aber Stella weiß, was sie gesehen hat. Und am nächsten Tag wird ein Mädchen mit schlimmen Verletzungen in die Notaufnahme gebracht...

"Was in jener Nacht geschah" von Katherena Vermette ist einer der eindrücklichsten und spannendsten Romane, die ich in letzter Zeit gelesen habe. Auf den ersten Blick scheint die Geschichte fast ein Krimi zu sein, auf den zweiten Blick geht die Autorin hier aber viel tiefer: Sie erzählt von indigenen Frauen in Kanada, der generationenübergreifenden Gewalt, die man ihnen angetan hat - und immer noch antut - und den daraus resultierenden Traumata, die sich von Müttern auf Töchter und Enkelinnen überträgt.

Katherena Vermette ist selbst eine Red River Métis und in Winnipeg geboren. In ihrem Roman gibt sie den Lesenden viel Wissen über die indigene Bevölkerung Kanadas weiter. Sie berichtet von offenem Rassismus und solchem in Form von Mikroaggressionen innerhalb von Beziehungen zwischen weißen und indigenen Personen, von der Polizei, die auf die Indigenen herabschaut und ihre Probleme nicht ernst nimmt, sie als lästig empfindet und von der ständigen Sexualisierung und dem Missbrauch indigener Kanadierinnen. Gerade letzteres macht auch auf die verschwundenen indigenen Frauen Kanadas aufmerksam und ist gerade mit diesem Hintergrund besonders erschütternd.

Sprachlich und stilistisch ist der Roman nicht ganz einfach zu erfassen. Es kommen sehr viele Charaktere zu Wort, wodurch ein feines Geschichts- und Beziehungs-Netz gesponnen wird, das von den Lesenden entwirrt werden muss. Zu Beginn fällt es schwer, sich einen Überblick zu verschaffen - da kann ich nur empfehlen, den Stammbaum am Ende des Buches im Blick zu behalten. Mit diesem ist es ein bisschen leichter, die Zusammenhänge zwischen den verschiedenen Personen zu verstehen. Für mich war diese Komplexität der Geschichte und Figuren aber genau richtig - ohne hätte das Buch wohl nicht so gut funktioniert. Auch der Wechsel zwischen der personalen und der Ich-Erzählung fand ich sehr interessant und passend.

Katherena Vermette hat mich mit "Was in jener Nacht geschah" von Anfang an in ihren Bann gezogen und gefesselt. Ihr Roman ist einerseits augenöffnend und lenkt den Fokus auf ein Thema, mit dem ich mich bisher eher sporadisch beschäftigt habe. Andererseits ist das Buch aber auch eine Ode an Freund*innen- und Verwandtschaften, an die starken Bande zwischen Müttern, Töchtern, Enkelinnen, Tanten und Nichten. Und: Es ist atemberaubend spannungsgeladen. Von mir gibt es definitiv eine Leseempfehlung!
Profile Image for Allison.
256 reviews41 followers
March 8, 2017



Made me feel so dark with a feeling of immense helplessness.

I did find this book to be well-written, and I really admire the skill it takes to convincingly wrap words together to form a story that wouldn't let me go.

But I'm feeling a misery in the same way I felt it after reading Birdie. We can argue that the women in this book are strong and resilient, but I'm so sorry that they're put to the test at all, and I don't know what I can possibly do to help them, or share the wealth of fortune that's allowed me to land in a life very different from theirs.

I just feel very sad.
Profile Image for Renee.
201 reviews21 followers
March 16, 2017
Wow. It's not enough, but it's almost all I can say after reading Katherena Vermette's The Break. This book is heavy and dark, but it's also so incredibly important. It was necessary for me, as a Canadian, to read a story about my country from a perspective that is different than my own. I love the Canada Reads competition so much, because it brings stories like this to a greater audience. I actually picked this book up ages ago after Margaret Atwood recommend it on Reco, and I am so glad I finally got around to reading it.

The story opens with Stella, shaken and afraid, providing two police officers with the details of a very violent crime that she saw take place through her window in the middle of the night. The officers have different opinions on the information they get from Stella - the older assuming it's just gang violence, and the younger sensing that something more vicious has taken place. What follows is a perfectly crafted account of not only the crime, but everything that surrounds it. Vermette dives into social issues, gang violence, police apathy, racism, alcoholism, spousal abuse, and what it means to live life in a broken system. It's gritty, it's bleak, it's real.

The book is broken up into four sections, each containing a chapter narrated from the perspective of a different family member, as well as one of the police officers involved in the story. There are many characters to keep track of, but the family tree at the beginning of the book keeps everyone and their lineage clear. This could have become convoluted, but the opposite happened for me - as I discovered the familial connections I began to feel personally intertwined in their lives, almost a part of the family.

The Break should be compulsory reading for Canadians. If anything I mentioned in this review speaks to you, please go and get this book. While the book is heartbreaking and raw, Vermette keeps the focus on the healing power of family and tradition. An absolutely stunning debut from a writer I will be watching.
Profile Image for Marianne.
3,269 reviews117 followers
January 5, 2018
The Break is the first novel by Canadian poet, film-maker and award-winning author, Katherena Vermette. Late one cold February night, a small-town Canadian Police Department gets a 911 call. Stella McGregor, a young Metis wife and mother, is witnessing an assault on a stretch of land known as The Break, adjacent to her home. While there are still signs of a scuffle in the snow by the time two officers arrive, they are dubious about the witness’s assertion that a woman has been raped: the broken beer bottle and the pool of blood point to a gang fight.

But rookie Officer Tommy Scott, himself Metis, persists when his older (white) partner is ready to close the case, and the appearance of a horrifically injured teenaged girl in the Emergency Department of the local hospital validates his instincts. As the girl’s family gather around to provide support, the reader learns not just her story, but those of her extended family and close friends.

The tale is told over a few days in February, from the perspective of multiple narrators, who of course colour it with their own experiences and views. The characters are well-developed, the prose is often exquisite, and the strong connection to family and place makes it reminiscent of some of Ron Rash’s fine work. Vermette’s familiarity with, and love for, the Metis nation is apparent in every paragraph.

This novel may be described as literary crime, with the emphasis on literary, because the perpetrator becomes fairly obvious early on. The story is definitely character- rather than plot-driven. It is no surprise that it has been a been a bestseller since its release in Canada, and won multiple awards. Vermette’s debut novel is a brilliant read and it will be interesting to see what this talented author does next.
With thanks to Allen & Unwin and GoodReads Giveaways for this copy to read and review.
Profile Image for Jessica Jane.
33 reviews1 follower
April 25, 2016
Although graphic and gutting at times, this is a perfect first novel. The stories of these Metis-Anishnaabe women from Winnipeg's North End demand to be heard, and together form a very real and very timely portrait that turns the mirror on issues of gender, race and the cycle of abuse that haunt our country.

There is no way any review I give The Break will fully do it justice, and I am still feeling a little blindsided by the revelations of the last 50 pages, but suffice it to say that this is going to be THE BOOK to read this fall. I cannot recommend it enough.
Profile Image for Krista.
1,333 reviews494 followers
June 26, 2017
I've always loved the place my girl calls the Break. I used to walk through it in the summer. There is a path you can go along all the way to the edge of the city, and if you just look down at the grass, you might think you were in the country the whole way. Old people plant gardens there, big ones with tidy rows of corn and tomatoes, all nice and clean. You can't walk through it in the winter though. No one clears a way. In the winter, the Break is just a lake of wind and white, a field of cold and biting snow that blows up with the slightest gust. And when snow touches those raw Hydro wires they make this intrusive buzzing sound. It's constant and just quiet enough that you can ignore it, like a whisper you know is a voice but you can't hear the words. And even though they are more than three stories high, when it snows those wires feel close, low, and buzz a sound that is almost like music, just not as smooth. You can ignore it, it's just white noise, and some people can ignore things like that. Some people hear it and just get used to it.

One winter's night under a full moon, Stella is soothing her crying baby and sees through the window that someone is being attacked in the adjacent snow-covered Hydro-field she refers to as the Break. With her husband working the night shift, she's reluctant to intervene and risk putting her family in any danger, but as she begins to fear that she's witnessing a gang rape, Stella calls 911 to report the crime. Four hours later – long after Stella watched as the victim staggered away from the now bloody scene – two police officers finally arrive in the mostly Native neighbourhood in Winnipeg's north end; and while the young Métis cop seems eager to take Stella's statement, his older white partner dismisses the whole event as gang on gang violence and beneath official concern. After this shocking opening, The Break rewinds to the events leading up to the attack, and through the rotating perspectives of ten different narrators (mostly women and girls, but also the Métis cop) as they describe the aftermath (and eventually, circling back to the actual attack itself), the reader is given an intimate view into to what it means to be urban Native women today: the history and surrounding culture that weigh them down and the family and inner community that prop them up. I was often in tears reading this book – not because it was mawkish or manipulative but because I connected to the humanity of the characters – and while I don't think it was quite expertly crafted, I admire what author Katherena Vermette has achieved and revealed here.

On the one hand, Vermette's treatment of white people seems rather harsh – the older white cop is cartoonishly fat and lazy, stuffing his mouth with fast food and using racial slurs for both the Natives in the story and his own partner; white hospital staff are likely to dismiss a Native woman with a head injury as a self-harming drunk; young Native girls need to be fearful of a white man driving past too slowly in his car – but on the other hand, this may exactly represent the situation faced by the Native population in Winnipeg. It was therefore interesting to see that many of the Native women in this story chose white partners who (other than the Métis cop's abusive father) all seemed like decent men (also interesting that so many of the Native men retreated to the bush, unsuited to city life and domestic demands). I did find it noteworthy in this novel that no one was really blaming the white culture for what happens; and while there are gangs and alcoholism and broken families in the Native community that can be implicitly blamed on the aftereffects of colonisation, the narrators are real people, not agentless victims, and they take responsibility for the decisions that they make.

The best part of The Break is the four generations of women who come together in support of the victim(s) of the attack; no personal experiences could ever prepare one person to make sense of such evil and it takes an entire family of damaged individuals to provide healing for all. Most of the narrators were fascinating – from the fading old Kookum to Phoenix, the hateful gangbanger – but if I had a complaint, it's that many of the middle-aged women felt interchangeable (and hard to keep straight). Stella was a really interesting character, and although she had distanced herself from her Native roots, she found herself acting as a keeper for all of the stories that had been told to her since her own mother's early death (a role that her white husband didn't really understand).

The bar. The hospital. The street. The back lane. It wasn't a night out anymore. It was a timeline. Her mom wasn't a person anymore. She was a story. And it all didn't matter anyway. When Stella knew everything she knew the details weren't even all that important – it was what it meant that mattered. It meant that it was all her mom's fault. All her mom's fault. Her mom was dead and it was all her own fault. For a long time, that was all that really mattered.

In a CBC Radio interview, Vermette explained her impetus for writing this novel: People don't understand what it's like to not be able to walk around your neighbourhood or have all of your friends have a molestation story in their childhood. If people don't understand that you have to show that. That's what books are supposed to do. With The Break, Vermette definitely did achieve this goal, and insofar as she had me frequently in tears as I connected to her characters, she achieved it without making me feel defensive or attacked (which I frequently do feel as a member of the dominant Canadian culture when reading Indigenous Fiction). The Break is the kind of book that creates understanding and attracts allies, and that's no small feat for a first time novelist.
Profile Image for Shane.
Author 11 books248 followers
June 26, 2017
How does one critique a book that has either won or been a finalist for every literary award in the land, is dubbed an Indigenous novel, and is the debut offering of a young writer positioned for great things in the literary firmament? Answer: Very Carefully. And yet no writer should be spared the observations that hopefully make for better work in the future. So, with that in mind, and mindful that I may also be the object of hate mail, let me try to do justice to this novel.

A four-generational Métis family lives in and around the Break, a strip of barren land that separates the badly off from the better off somewhere in Manitoba. Most of the narrative voices are of the women—dead and alive—in this family, from Kookom Flora to great-granddaughter Emily. Stella (third generation), alone at home with her infant children witnesses a gang rape going on outside her window and is helpless to break it up or render assistance to the victim. She remains indoors, paralysed by fear and guilt, and calls the police instead. So begins the story and an investigation into the crime, resulting in a peeling back of the secrets in this family where rape has been accepted as a part of life in each of the generations, where the men are usually bad and stray from their women, and where the few good men are repelled by their women who have gone frigid by the damage done to them.

The author paints a realistic picture of life in this community, and paints too much of it, in my view. We get detailed accounts of domestic activities: feeding and caring for children, caring for the sick and the elderly, visits between the sisters to each others’ homes. The pace is dreadfully slow although the mood is very strong. Everyone is in pain, everyone feels guilty, and some are very angry. Occasionally something dramatic happens to liven up the pace before we slump back into the rounds of domestic activity narrated by members of the female cast. I was trying to find out who the protagonist was and that was not clear to me—the entire Métis family is, I believe, and the Break is just the backdrop. Generational Rape is the villain, for the perpetrators are faceless and nameless, and usually men, until in the predictable denouement, we see this villain cross genders.

There is no redemption for anyone in this novel, only an acceptance and a moving on, and hopefully, a shaping of character. The power of this novel is in its contemporary theme, coming at a time when questions on the unsolved rapes and murders of Indigenous women is at fever pitch at the federal government level. It therefore has the elements of a “grand theme” that renders it essential reading, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin did many years ago in the United States. I just wished it could have reached out of its insular domesticity and the reveling in pain to shed light on the inefficiency of white man’s law and order (ironically it is a Metis police officer who prevails until he gets his “man”), on the apathy of politicians to embrace this issue, on reactions of the well-to-do population on the other side of the Break, and on the motivations of those faceless men—then we would have been truly pushing the boundaries of this grand theme.

There is also a sense of hopelessness and a feeling that there is no escape from this reality. When Stella thinks it’s the Break that is the problem and says, “Girls don’t get attacked in good neighbourhoods,” Kookom replies, “Girls get attacked everywhere.”

One can only hope that books like this elevates the nation's consciousness to this issue and that better solutions and genuine healing are forthcoming.
Profile Image for Jodi.
339 reviews69 followers
October 25, 2021
The Break is not an easy book to read. It begins with a very violent assault, late at night, on a snowy strip of land (known as "the break") that separates two neighbourhoods in North End Winnipeg. This tragic event, and the fallout, is the focus of the book, but there's so much more to it than that.

There's no doubt the nature of the story made for a very difficult read, but it's possible for goodness and beauty to grow from pain and misery. In The Break, the goodness and beauty, without a doubt, is the family of the young victim. Members of this large, extended family, are no strangers to misfortune; they've had more than their share of drama over the years, but when they rally together to face their woes as one, past wounds begin to heal. Without a doubt, the unifying force in this family is the grandmother, or 'Kookum' as she's called—a wise elder who deeply loves each and every one of them and who, in return, is deeply loved by them. Although the crime is the focus of the story—along with the people involved and the investigation itself—the book is certainly not all doom and gloom. It is impossible not to feel the love that lives within this family. It's palpable!

Despite the horror of the assault, and the uncomfortable matters discussed, the book helped me gain a better understanding of the discrimination First Nations people face, and the generational trauma that appears impossible to escape.

It's a powerful book and one I'm very glad to have read. My lone peeve, though, was the incessant use of the F-word.🤬 I'm sure the author wanted the dialogue to be a true reflection of the current lexicon, but I found it unnecessarily repetitive. I mean, it was used many hundreds of times—so often it became distracting! And it's just such an ugly, offensive word.😝 I know a reader—and I'm sure there are others—who abandoned the book as its continual use became just too annoying to continue. However, aside from the one minor complaint, I thought The Break was an excellent book, and soon I'll be reading the sequel: (The Strangers). Overall, I give the book...

4.5 'effing' stars 😉 rounded up to 5 - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Profile Image for Mary.
418 reviews771 followers
November 9, 2017
It’s called The Break, but not one catches a break here. This is gritty realism where life is bleak, always, until the end, because for a lot of people the only certainty in life is that things don’t actually get better. Time doesn’t heal wounds, it infects them. How well do you think your life would turn out if you were conceived during the gang rape of a teenaged addict who left you to bounce around from one abusive situation to another, for example? You think you’d stand much of a chance of not being fucked up?

It’s unrelenting and it’s horrific and it was hard to put down. Even the “bad guys” aren’t all bad when you know how they got here.

“Girls don’t get attacked in good neighbourhoods.”
“Girls get attacked everywhere.”

**I received this book from the publisher through the Goodreads Giveaways program.
Profile Image for Brooke.
674 reviews88 followers
February 12, 2019
The Break begins when a young mother witnesses an assault being committed outside of her house on a snowy, isolated strip of land in Winnipeg’s North End. While the story centers around this horrible crime, it is not a mystery novel, as it is clear to the reader who the perpetrator is early on. Instead, it is a novel about relationships, particularly the relationships between four generations of Indigenous women – Stella, Emily, Phoenix, Louisa, Cheryl, Zegwan, Paulina, and Flora – who are tied together by blood and friendship. Each woman’s perspective, as well as the perspective of a young Métis cop named Tommy, are woven together in a series of shifting narratives that recount the events leading up to the assault and the aftermath and healing that follow. The large cast of characters can be difficult to keep straight in the beginning, but their voices, stories, and relationships feel incredibly realistic, with each character baring their flaws, fears, struggles, and hopes in a way that resonated with me.

The Break is not an easy read, but I didn’t expect it to be. Vermette writes honestly about the realities of being an Indigenous woman in Canada, which for many of these women unfortunately includes abuse, assault, rape, addiction, gangs, relationship struggles, death, grief, loss, dehumanization and more. Despite all the hurt, anger, and sadness contained within its pages, The Break paints a picture of strength, resilience, and hope, and is a powerful and haunting read.
Profile Image for Heather.
128 reviews49 followers
January 10, 2018
Wow! What a beautiful and heart breaking story. I almost put it down about 50 pages in as there were so many characters I was having a hard time keeping track. I continued and by about page 90 I was completely drawn in. This is not a happy story by any means but it is so beautifully written and I became so attached to the characters. This story will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Antonia.
28 reviews2 followers
March 30, 2017
This was the book that should have won Canada reads, my apologies to André Alexis, but this was the book that could help to heal Canada.

Unfortunately it was eliminated, in a shockingly fast and something not unlike the violence against indigenous women, it was swept under the rug very quickly, to be pushed aside.
This book is not an easy read, because it is not an easy subject. But it is one that has to be read and shared time after time. This book should be on reading lists all over Canada. The message is strong, the characters are it's backbone, and it's setting is too real to escape.

There is a strong tone of colonialisation that needs to be spoken about, it destroys communities and then shames them for it, much like the community (in this case the generational matriarchs) in this book.
There is a sense of sad hopefulness that accompanies the end, but it's hopefulness can only be felt through activism, spread this book, feel it's pain, help a nation heal.
Profile Image for Iman Verjee.
7 reviews1 follower
October 6, 2016

After mulling over it for several days, The Break seems slightly weaker to me in retrospect than it did while I was reading it.

This is definitely a page-turner - I read it all night long, I read it on the subway, I read it while waiting for the traffic lights to change - Vermette has done an excellent job of constructing a fast-paced, thrilling plot that just compels you to keep reading.

The themes of pain, abuse, trauma and the stories & fear that we are forced to carry as women and people of colour were very well explored and the language (despite the constant repetition of the word 'gross' which bugged me slightly) was beautiful, simple and poetic.


PLOT: While the novel definitely has a strong plot, I ultimately felt let down. After so much careful crafting, building up of the story, its ending felt very rushed and predictable, leaving me unsatisfied.

TOO MANY CHARACTERS - I'm a big fan of the multi-character perspective and I understand that writing from the POV of 10 characters is a tremendous challenge and sadly, one I feel that Vermette fell slightly short of. (Though it would be remiss of me not to mention I highly admire Vermette for the incredible amount of respect and empathy she has for all her characters.)

There are compelling characters - Phoenix & Tommy especially - complex, rich, heartbreaking - but many of the others including Stella, Lou, Paul & Cheryl, were significantly less well-developed and in the end, all sounded very similar and stereotypical so that I was unable to form any attachment or even really care about them. And I just didn't think she needed the POV from a dead woman - although these were some of the most beautifully written passages, they distracted me and constantly pulled me out of the story.

Despite the novel's flaws, there is no denying that Vermette is a great storyteller- and while I was left slightly underwhelmed by The Break, I'm glad that I read it and I look forward to reading more of the author's work.

Profile Image for Sarah Sophie.
160 reviews209 followers
November 27, 2021
Ein eindringliches Gesellschaftsportrait und eine tragische Familiengeschichte.
Zu Beginn fiel es mir nicht leicht alle Frauen dieser Familie mit indigenen Wurzeln auseinander zu halten. Gut, dass es einen Stammbaum im Buch gibt.
Nach und nach enthüllt sich ein düsteres Bild der Familie Traverse. Wer hier einen polizeilichen Ermittlungskrimi erwartet, liegt falsch. Viel mehr geht es darum die Hintergründe der Tat zu beleuchten. Es geht um starke Frauen ( die weiß Gott stark sein müssen), Männer kommen in diesem Buch nicht gut weg. Es ist aus mehreren vorwiegend weiblichen Sichtweisen geschrieben, es bleiben immer Geheimnisse unausgesprochen, manches muss sich der Leser zwischen den Zeilen selbst erarbeiten. Da lohnt sich aber das aufmerksame Lesen.
Themen wie Rassismus, häusliche Gewalt, Bandenkriege, Missbrauch und Identitätsfindung stehen hier im Mittelpunkt. Im Kern ist es ein feministisches Buch. Mir hat allerdings die sehr schwarz weiße Sichtweise auf die Männer nicht gut gefallen. Leider fand ich nicht ansatzweise eine Protagonistin sympathisch..
Profile Image for patsy_thebooklover.
520 reviews199 followers
May 25, 2021
Jeśli brakuje Wam ostatnio wciągających, niegłupich powieści z całą paletą konkretnych bohaterek, to koniecznie musicie sięgnąć po 'Przerwę'! Jeśli tęsknicie za spędzaniem późnych wieczorów i wczesnych poranków ze wzrokiem wlepionym w kartki, wyczekiwania najbliższej chwili, by zajrzeć choć na chwilę do spisanej opowieści, to obowiązkowo musicie złapać za 'Przerwę'! A jeśli bierzecie udział w akcji #majpleasure Dominiki @prosto_o_ksiazkach i chcecie przy okazji poczytać coś kobiecego (pejoratywne skojarzenia precz!) i porywającego no to macie lekturę na końcówkę akcji!

'Przerwa' to wspaniała, osadzona w lokalnej mieszanej społeczności rdzennych Kanadyjczyków i potomków osadników, opowieść o rodzinie. Kobiecej czteropokoleniowej rodzinie. I jak to w rodzinie bywa: nie zawsze z każdym się dogadujemy, nie zawsze umiemy ze sobą rozmawiać, nasze zachowania i zainteresowania prowadzą nas w zupełnie innych kierunkach, wybieramy kompletnie innych partnerów i partnerki, którzy nierzadko nie podobają się pozostałym, ale potrafimy się jednoczyć w obliczu tragedii. Jednoczyć na swój unikalny sposób. I jak to w każdej rodzinie bywa: do jakiejś tragedii dochodzi.

'Przerwa' oferuje wgląd w świat przeróżnych kobiet. Jedna mierzy się z porzuceniem, inna z osieroceniem, kolejna z zagubieniem, następna z uzależnieniem. Są ucieczki fizyczne i duchowe. Jest samotność, odrzucenie, brak spełnienia, trauma. Ból, niemoc i mnóstwo pytań. Ale jest też lojalność, solidarność, miłość, przyjaźń, ciekawość świata, wytrwałość, zrozumienie własnej wartości i wartości rodziny. Babcina mądrość, siostrzana zwartość, matczyna opiekuńczość, nastoletni bunt. I te wszystkie relacje pięknie się w 'Przerwie' przeplatają i uzupełniają, a mamy do nich dostęp z każdej perspektywy, bo Vermette postanowiła każdej z tych kobiet oddać głos i na tej wielogłosowości poprowadzić narrację. Z powodzeniem.

Margaret Atwood nazwała Katherine Vermette spełnioną pisarką, która zajdzie daleko. 'Przerwa' na GR cieszy się oceną 4,29 (w skali 5-punktowej) na prawie 11 tys. ocen. I ja Wam mówię: zapisujecie, bierzcie na weekend, urlop, wakacje, spokojny wieczór i cieszcie się przyjemnością czytania! Siła jest kobietą!
Profile Image for Brandon.
889 reviews233 followers
February 23, 2017
The Break begins with Stella, a woman who witnesses a violent crime from her kitchen window late at night. Through alternating narratives, the author takes the reader through the lives of those connected with the victim, shining a light on both the violence and struggles within Winnipeg’s North End neighborhood.

Katherena Vermette’s novel, is in a word, bleak. In saying that, it’s not an attempt to dissuade potential readers, just know that I found it tough to get through. On a positive note, while the subject matter is trying, many of the characters act as beacons of hope for a culture and crises that are often overlooked.

As horrific as it is, the crime itself is overshadowed by the circumstances that lead to its creation. It acts as almost a kindling for what the author is conveying to the reader. From the apathetic police department to the fear of interjection on the part of witnesses, a broken system is at the core of the story. Many of the characters, even the perpetrators, exist in shades of grey, something that may not sit right with those looking for justice or simple black and white alignments. Unfortunately, that is often not the world we live in. There are no easy answers and Katherena pulls no punches with the novel’s finale.

While The Break is only the second of the five Canada Reads novels I’ve read so far, I would be shocked if this didn’t take the crown at the end of the competition.
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